GET READY for the “war on Christmas,” season four. It’s already started in New Hyde Park, New York, a Long Island town where, in August 2007, some parents angrily denounced the school district’s proposal to change the name of the annual Christmas Concert to Winter Concert.
Allegations of a war on Christmas date back to Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic rants of the 1920’s and to a 1959 John Birch Society pamphlet. The latest battle started in 2004. After Christian conservatives helped re-elect George Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress, right-wing groups and journalists started to denounce the fact that Macy’s and other retailers were wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly ran a regular segment called “Christmas Under Siege,” trumpeting the newly formed Committee to Save Merry Christmas. Fox’s Sean Hannity and others also got in on the action. Because disputes over Christmas pageants at public schools and government-sponsored crèche scenes are a perennial affair, I wondered whether this was the same silliness as in any other year, only I was noticing it more, or whether it was actually worse than usual. The consensus among friends and colleagues was decidedly the latter.
Sean Cahill is policy director at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. This essay is adapted from a piece he wrote while directing the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.