As soon as Halloween has ended, it seems that our culture’s need for constant seasonal celebration has ushered in a new beast: Christmas. Retail chains have begun not only selling Christmas-related items, but also blasting Mariah Carey at top volume. Public places are being decked out with evergreen trees, wicker reindeer and related décor, such as the Glassboro Town Square is every year. Awkward Christmas-themed office parties loom, ominously, just around the corner.
Apparently, November doesn’t exist anymore, and neither do people who don’t want to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Our culture is laden with media portraying anyone who doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas as somehow deficient. The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge don’t celebrate Christmas because they just hate joy. James Caan’s character in the Will Farrell movie “Elf” doesn’t celebrate because he’s emotionally constipated. Every overbearing workaholic in a Hallmark channel movie doesn’t “do Christmas” because she doesn’t know the true meaning of love yet.
Over the past decade, former FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly has vehemently claimed that anything that doesn’t cater specifically to Christmas is part of some culture war (literally, “the war on Christmas”) meant to oppress Christians, and by extent, America at large. Western media has literally given both personal and moral value to both celebrating, and not celebrating, Christmas.
Of course, some people don’t want to celebrate because there may be some associated trauma or because they maintain a poor work-life balance, as the Hallmark channel suggests. But some people may also just not be Christian or have any interest in participating in a Christian celebration. The result is that the associated Christian morality comes off as exclusionary and self-superior at best, and anti-Semitic and Islamophobic at worst. But really, even culturally Christian people who just want to work on Christmas should be able to without being given a hard time about it.
While there is nothing wrong with sharing culture and being happy that a favorite holiday is nearing, there is a large issue with forcing other people to celebrate, especially when those people are from minority cultures that are otherwise constantly marginalized by Christian hegemony.
A Christian person may not think much about it, but some ways that they may force others to celebrate Christmas include: blasting Christmas music in an office with an open floor plan without first asking coworkers if they’re OK with it, creating office “Christmas” parties that are mandatory and during work hours, tax dollars being used to pay for Christmas-specific outdoor public decorations and having Christmas-themed celebrations at public schools, or “holiday” parties that don’t acknowledge any other culture.
What makes this oppressive isn’t that Christians are celebrating Christmas on their own time, but that there are real social and professional consequences for anyone refusing to engage: an argument may break out between the coworkers over the radio station, pay may be docked for not showing up to the party or promotions withheld since it seems that an employee “isn’t social enough.” Not having your tax dollars go toward honoring a specific religion requires attending lengthy council meetings to argue, or even litigating for the separation of church and state, and children may be ostracized by their peers for not participating in the Christmas-themed fun and games — or else coerced by candy and bright colors into beliefs that don’t align with those of their family.
When celebrating Christmas stops being a personal choice and starts becoming the assumed social norm, it “others” ethnic and religious minorities — and then, a la the Grinch, shames them for clear failure to love “joy.” This weaponization of the holiday highlights a disregard for consent that permeates much of how American Christianity engages with non-Christians.
While it’s true that Christmas has become more secular due to its prominence in American culture, this isn’t in spite of Christian hegemony, but because of it; otherwise, a nondenominational holiday would receive this kind of cultural ubiquity in a country with no official religious affiliation. Considering the historical violence that has been done to religious minorities for their refusal to be more Christian and convert, this trend feels especially insidious.
According to Bill O’Reilly, though, any attempted inclusivity is “trying to destroy Christmas.” How do we reconcile this?
The truth is, it’s easy. Pluralistic religions such as Judaism and Hinduism have been doing it all along by celebrating favorite holidays among themselves without making participation mandatory. If you’re not Jewish and Hindu but are lucky enough to be close with someone of these cultures who has invited you to share them with you, there’s nothing wrong with accepting the invitation and learning more about a different culture. The part that’s important is that you were asked — your participation wasn’t just assumed.
If you’re Christian, just ask. Don’t assume that everyone around you is going to want to be part of your culture. And don’t blame someone who may tell you that they don’t celebrate or don’t want to celebrate. If your love of the holiday isn’t enough that you need to force someone else to unwillingly participate and also enjoy doing so, you may need to reevaluate what your goals and values for Christmas are in the first place. And look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to start celebrating Christmas as early as you want to — but you may need to accept that, for some of your friends, neighbors, family and peers, the time to start may be “never.” They’re just as happy and content as you are. Promise.
For comments/questions about this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @TheWhitOnline.