Walk into any store from the end of November to early January and a very familiar scene will unfold. Christmas music blaring out from every speaker, exhausted assistants in gaudy jumpers, aisles of cards and paper emblazoned with ‘Merry Christmas’, special offers on Christmas food and Christmas drink and Christmas clothes… You would never guess that over a dozen other religious holidays are celebrated during this time.
Hidden behind the conventional Christmas blockade are those who have no connection to the birth of Jesus. Pagans who celebrate the winter solstice (December 21st), Jewish people who celebrate Hanukkah (12th-20th December), and people of African descent who celebrate Kwanzaa (26th December- 1st January). It’s obvious that late December is a time of rejoicing and happiness for many groups of people; so why do we only ever hear about the Christians?
The answer lies in the war on Christmas.
Not the modern-day egotistical ‘movement’ that involved far-right sympathisers becoming offended over Starbucks cups, whilst simultaneously getting their holidays pandered to by every aspect of Western society, oh no. I’m talking about the historical battle for religious freedom, erased from our textbooks by bias and propaganda. This was the real war on Christmas.
In the 4th Century CE, Christian priests gained a foothold in the Roman Empire, a previously polytheistic (believing in many Gods and Goddesses) society. From here they started banning many ancient pagan practises, including worshipping their Gods, celebrating their holidays and the Olympic Games (yes, really). They also warped ancient festivals and stole Pagan traditions (Christmas trees? Christmas lights? Yule logs? All from non-Christian roots!) so people would be forced to worship the Christian God- not their own deities.
Similar examples of forced Christianisation prevail even into our own century. Take Hitler banning Jewish customs to the point of an actual genocide. Take the thousands of Native American children who were taken from their homes and forcibly ‘Westernised’ (including forsaking their own sacred days for those of Christianity)- this practise continued into the 1980s. Everywhere we look, we can see that the true victims of Christmas are those who would dare seek religious freedom to honour their own traditions in late December. Yet still there are those- the persecutors, not the persecuted- who claim cards saying ‘Happy Holidays!’ are an attack on their religion.
So what happens now? In the week where President Trump gave America ‘permission’ to ‘say Merry Christmas again’ (not that anyone was banned, attacked or threatened for saying it anyway), it seems like the far-rights view of the war on Christmas is further obscuring the historical struggles faced by religious minorities all over the Western world. But with more and more people embracing alternative ways of celebrating the season, schemes are rising throughout America. For example, many non-Christian emergency service workers are volunteering to work on December 25th. This allows Christian workers to take the day off, whilst non-Christian workers can be with their families on the days sacred to them. Systems such as this will hopefully soon become organised and mainstream for the benefit of every family.
Next time a politician, newsreader or provoking family relative (there are a lot of those around at this time of year) bring up the so-called War on Christmas, we should encourage an alternative dialogue on the struggles and celebrations of religious minorities during what is, for many different people and many different reasons, the most wonderful time of the year.