The Extremists Roots of the ‘War on Christmas’

As one who has long laughed heartily at the notion of a War on Christmas, I was fascinated to see this blog post about the origins of the whole thing. Turns out it started among paranoid and racist far right groups like the John Birch Society. Color me unsurprised.

In 1959, the John Birch Society, a far-right organization that sees anti-American and communist conspiracies in just about everything, released a pamphlet called “There Goes Christmas!” written by Hubert Kregeloh.  The pamphlet claimed, “One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas — to denude the event of its religious meaning.”  The John Birch Society believed the UN was being used to crush religious belief:

The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand.  They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda.  What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this:  Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.

These “UN symbols and emblems” were simply secular Christmas decorations that did not employ religious imagery, decorations that had been around for some time.  The pamphlet claimed this was a plot to destroy Christianity and called on patriotic Americans to boycott any stores that displayed such decorations.  No one took this very seriously in 1959 — this was, after all, the John Birch Society.  The conspiracy theory did not catch on.  But it was to come back a few decades later.

In the 1990s, Peter Brimelow, a British American financial journalist, was an editor atFortune magazine when he decided he didn’t like the phrase “happy holidays.”  He told theDaily Beast, “I just got real interested in the issue because I noticed over the years there was this social shift taking place where people no longer said ‘Merry Christmas.’”  In his book Alien Nation, Brimelow wrote that “weird aliens with dubious habits” were damaging the “ethnic core” of white Christian America and were part of a “multicultural struggle to abolish America.”  He saw the trend toward saying “happy holidays” as part of this sinister movement and decided to do something about it.

Brimelow and conservative British political journalist John O’Sullivan, who was then editor of the conservative magazine National Review, had an idea:  A yearly competition in the magazine for the “the most egregious attempt to suppress Christmas.”  But before O’Sullivan could implement the idea, he was booted from his position as editor in 1997.  Even the staunch conservatives at the National Review wanted nothing to do with Brimelow and O’Sullivan and their increasingly hostile attitudes toward racial minorities and immigrants.  So Brimelow founded VDare, an anti-immigration online journal which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized as a “hate journal” in 2003.  VDare became the home of Brimelow’s “Annual War on Christmas Competition.”

The winner of the competition in 2001 was Tom Piatak’s article “Happy Holidays?  Bah!  Humbug!”.  In the article, Tom Piatak writes that today’s celebration of Christmas in America bears a “closer resemblance to the Nazis’ Julfest” than the Christmases of old, like those celebrated during Piatak’s childhood.  He specifically targets other holidays and religions as the source of the problem:

Teaching children about Kwanzaa, rather than about the Christmas carols and spirituals developed by blacks, inculcates negative lessons about whites instead of positive ones about blacks.  Teaching children about Hanukkah, rather than the beliefs that actually sustained Jews on their sometimes tragic and tumultuous historical journey, inculcates negative lessons about Christianity, not positive ones about Judaism.

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