Christmas consumerism doesn’t make for war


(Illustration by Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator)

It’s not truly Christmastime in my family until we’re forced out into the cold for an impromptu caroling session around the neighborhood. Afterward, we’ll drive Downtown for an evening of ice-skating under Pittsburgh’s largest Christmas tree.

Another, more unfortunate telltale sign of the season is the reemergence of Fox News panelists on evening television railing against a “War on Christmas” — a consumerist movement to shift Christmas away from Christianity and toward a more general secular winter holiday.

About one-third of Americans polled in a 2016 Public Policy Polling study agree this war is happening. And although these Americans may get angry because a store associate wishes them “Happy Holidays” as they shop for stocking stuffers, it doesn’t seem to be the issue it once was in the early 2000s.

Declaring war on Christmas would require the government laying a heavy hand into citizens’ private family life — something that flagship retail brands and companies just can’t do.

A true War on Christmas would only happen if governmental influence from the president or Congress prevented celebration of Christmas in private life. And with our “Merry Christmas”-wishing president, there’s little chance of that happening anytime soon.

Instead, we live in a consumerism-driven holiday season, where flagship retailers have the power to wish customers “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” or something else entirely. And the companies greeting choices actually reflect the opinions of consumers.

If we observe the debate through the prism of government intervention, then certainly there is no reason to say a War on Christmas is an active part of our society. It seems that Americans are not personally offended by different holiday greetings. Another study from Public Policy Polling asked the question, “Are you personally offended if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to you, or not?”

Only 3 percent of participants said they’d be offended.

Former Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly brought the “War on Christmas” to national headlines in the early 2000s, which seems to have marked the start of this long delicate line between what greeting is and isn’t offensive, even inspiring a boycott of retail stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s for not including the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their advertising. But consumerism isn’t even the original source of an alleged “War on Christmas” — the real culprit is the Puritans.

The secular status of Christmas in 17th century England had the Puritans grieving over the lost sacredness of the holiday, and they sought to return Christian meaning to Christmas to truly live in a godly society. Today’s supposed war is rooted in consumerism, a cause with significantly less fervor than religious life.

According to a 2016 study from the Public Religion Research Institute, about 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, even though only 70 percent of Americans identify with some denomination of Christianity.

It’s clear many Americans, whether or not they believe in its associated religion, enjoy celebrating Christmas. It simply doesn’t make sense that Americans would plot the demise of a generally appreciated holiday like Christmas.

But still, the debate exists — and one of its biggest bones of contention is the greeting.

Businesses may hold whatever values and standards they wish, even if it means non-compliant employees could face consequences. This is exactly what happened to Tonia Thomas, who was fired from her job at Counts-Oakes Resorts Properties Inc. because she wanted to say “Merry Christmas” at work, in addition to being insubordinate.

I hold their right to fire her — but I don’t believe businesses wishing to require specific greetings for their employees constitute a War on Christmas.

However, a fine line exists. If a business wishes to move to a more secular view of the winter season, then all will still be well. But we must not allow governments to mandate business marketing strategies.

Consumers simply believe businesses should try to be more inclusive to those who do not celebrate Christmas, respecting everyone.

Of course, many Americans do believe consumerism can infringe on private life. Some actually welcome consumerism into their personal lives — think of the myriad of Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales cutting into family dinners across America. It’s precisely people like this who value commercialism as a part of their private family life who give retailers reason to keep pushing products in the holiday season.

But just because these Americans may value consumerism in their private lives, doesn’t mean that it has to occupy space there. Large companies, such as Macy’s, operate on a much too grand scale to force their way into everyone’s private life.

In the future, customers may even sue stores for saying “Merry Christmas” to force businesses into changing their moral codes and standards — but that’s hardly reason to start a War on Christmas. It would not prevent employees and employers from using the term in their private lives.

Let’s cast aside the War on Christmas this holiday season. Wish your neighbors a merry whatever holiday they celebrate, or a happy whatever holiday you celebrate. Give back a little more than usual, spend time with loved ones and spread a little more joy and a little less anger this winter season.