Thursday, December 08, 2005

Readers' Challenge

Just when I got good and self-righteous about Bill O'Reilly's war-on-Christmas thing, a friend of mine indicated to me that O'Reilly's argument actually resonates with her. She really does feel censored from mentioning Christianity in public, and she really does resent the "happy holidays" thing.

My first reaction was . . . well, no need to go into it here. Let's just say . . . um, no, never mind.

Anyway, my first reaction was definitely reactionary, and that's the very thing I bitch about when I see it in other people. So I find I need to step back a bit and do a reality check. After all, this is someone whose opinion I respect. Are we, as a culture, censoring Christianity? Or are we simply acknowledging the diversity among us? If this is happening, is there some way, other than anecdotal, to document it? And if it is happening, what is the solution?

So here is my challenge to you, Dear Readers, in the form of two questions:

1. If a person -- oh, say, a reference librarian -- wanted to investigate this issue, what objective measures might she take a look at? Not anecdotes, not what happened to someone's Aunt Sally, but measurable, researchable indicators that would help us determine whether or not we as a society are being exclusionary. For example, a blog I saw yesterday (and I'm so sorry, I can't remember which one so I can't give you credit, but if you tell me who you are I'll fix that) noted the number of times Christmas was mentioned in the TV listings, versus other holidays. Stuff like that.

Keep it simple, folks. I have a budget of zero and I didn't do all that well in statistical analysis.

2. This is especially (though not exclusively) for those folks who are feeling excluded, whatever your religious persuasion. When one doesn't know a person's religion, what should one say? What would you have storekeepers do? Perhaps "Seasons Greetings" is better than "Happy Holidays (holy-days)"?

Okay? One. Two. Three. GO.


  1. The key question is "what kind of Christianity are you talking about"? The faith is FAR from monolithic, as I - a blue-state, way-left-progressive, ACLU-supporting, environmentalist, feminist, queer-allied ... orthodox, theologically conservative (= I actually believe literally in the Resurrection), Episcopalian, ordination candidate could tell you.

    Growing up in a wildly diverse school system (there was no racial majority, and kids in my elementary school came from something like forty countries) with a mother who was a Christian education professional, we did feel that there was a certain lack of discussion about Christianity on the same level as the other faiths - Judaism, Hinduism - that we were taught about in the classroom. There was an unspoken assumption that "everybody knew" about Christianity and so it didn't need to be taught. The assumption that "everybody knew" led to the perpetuation damaging and untrue stereotypes (for example, that Christmas is the most important holiday and that Santa is a key part of it), because they weren't systematically challenged. I think this actually contributes to the dominance of the reactionary, bigoted, jingoistic, fundamentalist strain.

    Which is my second point - no, Christianity (or at least something that calls itself and passes for Christianity) is not systematically discriminated against in terms of being oppressed by the dominant culture. In many parts of the country, it IS the dominant culture. By constitutional standards, it is far, far too powerful. That vague shaking you feel in Virginia is Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.

    Does this make any sense?

    (Wandered over here to thank you for your kind comment on my blog, and got sucked in! Cool!)

  2. Hmmm...perhaps I am playing devil's advocate or perhaps I am just too heathen/pagan by nature
    ...but despite my agreement that this whole "holiday tree" vs. "Christmas tree" thing is SO stupid, I REALLY don't think Christianity is being censored in general. Example:
    I like listening to a certain "soft rock" radio station in town and it bugs me to no end
    that every Sunday morning before 12 they play Christian church music. Don't they have their own radio stations for that? Can't they play c.d.'s or cassettes in their cars to and from church if that is what they want their kids to hear? This is not the "Fish station" btw. I don't mind this time of year, though, because they play CHRISTMAS music --which I actually like --and which is a nice mix of stuff really; Winter Wonderland-type (i.e. mentions no actual holiday) to Here Comes Santa Claus to O Holy Night (which does refer to the Christian "reason for the season."
    I actually think Jesus was a great guy and whether he's your personal savior or part of the Hall of Fame like Gaia, Buddha, or Gandhi -- hearing music about his birth is inspiring and pleasant in most ways. But I digress.
    My other reason for not beleiving Christians really are being so overruled is that at least in this state we still have the no liquor on Sundays rule. What's up with that? We all know why that's still on the books.
    Come on --freedom of speech is one thing, and it is limiting and again, stupid to forbid the phrase "Merry Christmas/" BUT, Christians are still far from discrimination -- their belief system still
    dominates our culture in these and many other ways.
    Sorry --don't think those will help your research project. How about perusing the "Holiday card" section at Target and other stores? I'll wager that there are WAY more Christmas cards than Hanuukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice greetings...

  3. Good questions! And Lord help me (if you exist) if I find myself agreeing with Bill O'Reilly...

    1. Any objective data (# people of non-Christain faith offended of every 100,000 population; sales of cards; % ads in papers etc.) will be coloured by societal attitudes. Especially in the current class wars of America.

    In Canada, we've come to more of an accommodation I think, while still struggling to separate public from personal - Xmas plays in school for example.

    I've live in Israel, India and Sudan and was never offended by religious celebration, only curious. But they have come nowhere close to Canada (and the US I suppose) in becoming multi-cultural societies. (Didn't answer, did I?)

    2. I was raised Christian, left it and explored Bahai, Buddhism and spent 8 years as a monastic with an Indian Guru. I think of myself now as a religious atheist (even in opposition to religion), but at the same time I have a deep, deep regard for life and the spirit that moves it. I'm not offended by any greeting in a store, except, "Welcome to Walmart!" (And that's my fault if I go in.)

  4. As much as I would like to resist, I cannot.

    Okay. First - Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas...does it really matter? If you want to seem like an idiot when you tell the nice Jewish folks down the street to have a Merry Christmas, then, by all means, go at it. It is just a greeting and how you want to portray yourself is your own business. Might as well tell them to enjoy Ramadan while you're at it.

    Second. Christmas is not about Jesus. This whole winter celebration is pagan in origin. Christmas (note historically that this winter celebration was not always called Christmas - even by the church (see also Michaelmas and Nicklemas)). Originally, the yule log was a big fat tree that the Germanic folks, chopped down, dragged back into the village and burned for two weeks during the darkest time of their year. Essentially, this whole winter holiday thing was co-opted first by the Christians, then by Coca-Cola (the inventor of our common conception of Santa Claus) - which, by the way, wasn't even American to begin with (see also Sinter Klaas - and if you want to know the Christian origins of St. Nick, see Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (Izmir) from around the 4th century AD) that would be in Turkey, folks). Before the modern Europeans got their hands on it, the Romans celebrated the winter holiday with two weeks of drunken orgy in the streets of Rome during a similar holiday (by the way, slaves and slave owners in Rome would trade places for one day - the day after the end of the winter holiday - the British call this Boxing Day). Ahh...the good old days. Believe what you want, but the holiday wasn't always about Jesus. It wasn't always pure. It wasn't always Norman Rockwell.

    Third. The problem that I have with O'Reilly is that he is pining away (and has quite a few followers pining too) for the classic 1950's Americana. He will not be happy until families are single-wage-earning with the men at work in offices and the women at home in a dress and pearls and heels, cleaning, fixing meals and doing the laundry. Is it really any wonder that his conception of the festive winter holiday season is so warped.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Personally, I am not offended if somebody wishes me a "Merry Xmas" ... after all, Xmas is a federal holiday. If somebody wants me to have a nice day on December 25th, then it would make sense for them to say "merry Xmas" to me.

    However, since there are several holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, it sort of makes sense to say "happy holidays", if you want people to enjoy more than one day. It's also kind of nice for those who celebrate Yule or Hanukkah or any other holiday instead of the Christ mass.

    I have some thoughts about the "war on Xmas" and hope to post them to my blog soon.

    btw, thanks for linking to the Library Tavern.

  6. What companies are using "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" in their ads? How many decoration boxes have are stamped "Christmas Ornaments" versus "Holiday Ornaments"?

    I don't know if there is a truly objective way to do this research as there is a lot of subjectivity involved.

    Good luck. I'd like to see the data on this.