Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Blue (State) Christmas?

Ann Althouse wonders if "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" are the new "Red" and "Blue."
The whole subject has been talked about so much that it's going to seem like saying "Merry Christmas" is throwing down the gauntlet. Is "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Holidays" the new red/blue? We're declaring political positions now with our choice of seasonal pleasantry?

In a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 44% of those responding said the trend away from saying "Merry Christmas" and toward saying "Happy Holidays" is a change for the better. 43% said it wasn't. My first thought was "They're actually polling about this?" My second thought was "Better than what?" Apparently better than actually saying "Christmas" out loud. We must only ponder it in our hearts like Mary did.

I'm trying to figure out why this is suddenly a big deal this year. Every year we've had to deal with government offices and public institutions pretending as if Christmas doesn't actually exist or making bizarre concessions for small pockets of atheists who think Christmas is the time for insulting Christians.

Check out this piece by John Leo, first published eleven years ago--a scenario of political correctness around a certain stable in Bethlehem. (Mary's response to the suggestion of replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Season's Greetings":
"You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, 'Hello, it's winter'?")

But suddenly this year it's all-out war. This article suggests that Christians are getting uppity this year because they've been "emboldened by their election day success." I don't think that's it. I think part of it is that after many years of trying to wipe out Christmas in the name of political correctness, people have just had enough of it. But I also think part of it is how the political correctness seems to have spread beyond public institutions this year.

We've become used to government institutions--thanks to threats from ACLU types--trying to keep acknowledgment of Christmas to a minimum. (That includes the "fourth branch" of government as well.) But this year it seems that the halls of commerce are joining in. It's no longer schools that can't say the "C" word. The places where we shop are going all Scroogy as well.
[At] Macy's, . . . the formerly famous feast day has pretty much been obliterated. Nothing on the main floor. But high up in the store's nosebleed section (ninth floor, furniture), shoppers may notice "Holiday Lane," a collection of generically decorated Christmas trees, or former Christmas trees. The forbidden "C" word is hard to find, though sharp-eyed column staffers noticed it twice, in little nooks labeled "A Country Christmas" and "A Traditional Christmas." Sadly, some minor Torquemada of the Macy's Christmas disposal unit will probably lose his job for failing to rip down these noninclusive signs. Not to worry, though. There's nothing religious here. No carols. No music. Not much indication of what holiday might be occurring along Holiday Lane. Hanukkah is suffering the same fate as Christmas. Two years ago, the store had a huge Hanukkah banner and display. This year a few menorahs sat forlornly in a tiny unmarked area, far away from Holiday Lane.

The purge of Christmas is also in full bloom over at Bloomingdale's, which, like Macy's, is owned by Federated Department Stores. A minuscule Christmas section is tucked away on the fifth floor. "Any Christmas music?" I asked a clerk, as a sad Billie Holiday song filled the air (just the thing for holiday lanes). "Oh, it goes in cycles," the clerk said. "Just wait." Sure enough, a few minutes later, right after "Let it Snow," "The Christmas Song" came on, or as it is generally known, "Religion-Free Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Secular Fire." I heard no carols, though, and saw no "Merry Christmas" banners. Just some trinkets and two tiny fake evergreen trees decorated with tiny people holding Bloomingdale's shopping bags.

Ann Althouse shares her own experience:
[M]y local Borders bookstore is not playing any Christmas or seasonal music of any kind this week, it seems (based on my afternoon visits on Monday and Tuesday). Is this some sort of declaration of blue state-iness? Personally, I found it a relief not to hear Christmas music (or the related "it's snowing"/"I'm cold" music) while shopping, but I wonder if turning it off is now some sort of staunch political move.

People have worried about the commercialization of Christmas, but now we've got the politicization of Christmas. Must politics leak all over everything?

Well, I don't think this is a Red State/Blue State thing, nor the result of a bunch of Republicans feeling like George Bush has given them the power to challenge the forces of political correctness. Instead, I think people are just simply fed up after many years of having to pretend it isn't Christmas, but rather some generic "Wintermas." And I think people are shocked to see that even retailers--who want us to spend lots on Christmas gifts--don't want to acknowledge that it's Christmas.

Lileks browses the Strib archives and tracks the fading of "Merry Christmas" in his Bleat today.
By 1954 half the ads said “Season’s Greetings.” . . . Nice and safe. But I think “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” were, at first, new ways of saying the same old thing. You didn’t get the sense that they were trying to avoid anything, especially when they used clip art that showed wise men and a star. The balance began to shift in the 80s; by 2002 – the last year I had the time to scroll through on the microfiche – it’s all Seasons Greetings, with a few small “Merry Christmas” holdouts from small specialty stores. When you look at eight decades over the course of an hour, you can literally see the “Merry Christmas” fade from the newspaper. And if the term has faded from the common language of advertising, then it reflects something in the culture. Or rather the overculture – that twitchy, cheery, idiot blare produced by a stratum of coastal types who think the rest of America truly gives a shite whether Lindsay Lohan lost her Blackbird at a party last week, and who actually know who Anna Wintour looks like.


So anyway, Lileks is onto something here, and the battle for Christmas is nothing new. But maybe, just maybe, we're in a fighting mood this year.

Next year will tell us if anything was gained or lost. Will the red buckets return to Target? Will there be a Miracle on 34th Street? Or, as Jay Leno quipped the other night, will we have to settle for "Coincidence on 34th Street"?


At 12:03 AM, Blogger Jib said...

Update on Ann Althouse's Borders experience. I was at Border's tonight (likely the same one Ann frequents). They played Christmas music and regular music. Well, this is ground breaking reporter Jib, signing out (lol).


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