The most important ingredient in the "War on Christmas": victimhood
To the culture war right, every action must be treated as aggression.
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On the internet and in the media, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to understand what people are even talking about — especially when it comes to culture war-related outrages. Take this graphic, for instance, which I found in a Facebook group called “I Love Guns” (though I do not know where, exactly, it originated, as versions of it have popped up elsewhere):
Your first response to seeing things like “Santa is a man” and “Baby Jesus was a boy…not a ‘theybie’” might be a big ol’ “WTF is this person talking about???” And that’s understandable. While I recognized some of these talking points, some eluded me.
“Santa is a man” refers to a viral story from a few years back that originated with a graphic design company’s unscientific poll asking people how they would “rebrand” and “modernize” Santa. Respondents were specifically asked to change something about the classic vision of Santa, so this is not evidence of some sort of genuine movement to wipe out Santa as we know him, but rather, just a bad online poll.
Still, it provided conservative media outlets exactly what they needed: an excuse to present this as some sort of movement to strip them of everything they love about Christmas, driven by political correctness (that was in 2018; in 2021, they’d probably blame the equally vague term “wokeness”).
The only reference to Jesus as a “Theybie” I could find was 2019 article from conservative Australian columnist Lucy Carne attacking trans people for daring to criticize a certain author of books featuring a boy wizard. She cites the fake 2018 “gender-neutral Santa” poll and an instance of a woman writing that people were mean to her in a Facebook group she happened to be in (which was in no way newsworthy and not some sign of a giant trend if it happened at all) before launching into a completely bonkers rant about things that haven’t happened.
What next in the war on gender? Must Mary only be referred to as a pregnant person (not woman), who gave birth to Theybie Jesus? And she was visited by the Three Wise Thems and Little Drummer Enby? Will Mr and Mrs Claus become Mx Claus? Will we be singing “I saw Maddy (nonbinary Mummy and Daddy pronoun) kissing Santa Claus?” And will genderless priest robots deliver sermens?
Other items on this list are familiar to me if for no other reason than the fact that for years a big part of my job was keeping tabs on what was happening in right-wing media. For instance, the odd “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer actually teaches kids NOT to be bullies” line is throwback to a 2018 round of right-wing outrage sparked by right-wing media pretending that a video listed under HuffPost’s “Comedy” vertical meant to be a tongue-in-cheek “Viewers Noticed Some Very Disturbing Details In ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’” joke was an actual “We need to talk about this problematic thing” post, which it wasn’t. Anybody who looked at this for more than two seconds would realize this was a joke… and the video was filled with joke tweets… several from comedians. “The North Pole needs a HR department. All these bosses are horrible,” reads one of the jokes.
Just look at the replies to that post on Twitter. It was completely and totally deranged.
But days (and even weeks) after the HuffPost video got posted, right-wing media kept insisting that yes, the left was trying to ban Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from TV (in 2021, they would have probably said something like, “The left wants to cancel Rudolph!!!”) There’s no doubt in my mind that the people working at Fox, for instance, were aware that the video was a joke. They just knew that their audience was fired up and decided to run with it.
The coverage just kept on coming.
But because nothing in the world is actually original anymore, Fox was essentially just rehashing something it aired way back in 2011 when it invited a professor of some sort to come on air and claim that Rudolph sends the wrong message. They were only able to get a day’s worth of content from that, but it shows exactly how the right-wing outrage machine works when it comes to “War on Christmas” stuff or anything else. The goal is always to present individual comments as though they’re representative of the larger movement. This strategy will be discussed more in the next edition of this newsletter.
Victimhood lies at the center of the “War on Christmas.” It’s that simple.
In 2014, a group of Muslim parents asked to have the religious holidays of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha added to the calendar that gets printed and handed out to students every year. The reasoning made sense. If Christmas and Easter (Christian) and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (Jewish) were listed on the school’s calendar, why not their holidays, as well? Plus, it’s not that these parents were asking for additional days off from school, just that their holidays be given equal billing as other religious observances in the school’s official calendar. Purely symbolic. Should be easy enough, right?
Rather than do that, and rather than risk a lawsuit for seemingly favoring certain religions above others, the school board decided to instead remove Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur from its calendars for the following year. That’s how much members of the school board hated Muslims. This… was not at all what the Muslim group was hoping for. From a Washington Post article at the time:
“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”
Zainab Chaudry, also a co-chair of the coalition, expressed dismay, too, contending the school board’s members were willing to “go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid granting equal treatment for the Muslim holiday.
“They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar,” she said.
A rational person would look at this and think, “Oh wow, the way this school board treated Muslims was wrong! And look at the lengths the board went to in order to avoid having to acknowledge the existence of Muslim holidays!”
Instead, the response went a lot like this: “School Dumps Christmas to Appease Muslims”
For one, the school did not “dump” Christmas. Kids still got Christmas off, and this was purely symbolic. But beyond that, this was pretty clearly an act of anti-Muslim bigotry, not anti-Christian. Even so, it ended up getting people extremely angry in conservative media circles. The ability to take something that happened because Christians on the school board had a problem with Muslims and brand it as “anti-Christian” is exactly the kind of nonsense that keeps popping up in the “War on Christmas.”
In the next edition of the newsletter, the conclusion of this series on the “War on Christmas,” I’ll try to tie all of these threads together to explore what the actual political consequences of “the war” have been.