As the leaves begin to change and pumpkin spice products spread across the land, it's time once again for that honored American tradition, the War on Christmas.
This year, it has been kicked off in style by self-described "American evangelist, internet and social media personality" Josh Feuerstein, who picked up his sword and headed to Starbucks for that most noble of battles. Livid that this year the coffee behemoth "wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups," which for the season feature a minimalist red design, Feuerstein struck a blow for righteous warriors everywhere by ordering a drink and telling them his name was "Merry Christmas," thereby forcing the heathen savages to write those two magical words on his cup. In the video describing his triumph (which is getting lots of attention), he urges others of like mind to do the same. Just wait until all those Christians show Starbucks how mad they are by giving it more business!
The War on Christmas has been going on for a decade or so now, and though it may not rage with quite the fury it once did, it still serves everyone's interests. The conservative Christians who gear up for the war every year get to feed their sense of persecution and the belief that their lives are a righteous struggle against the large and sinister forces working to destroy them. Conservative media get something to shake their fists at for a couple of months. And the rest of us get to feel superior and mock them for being so ridiculous.
While I'm certainly happy to mock, you can do that and still acknowledge that the sense of oppression some Christians feel is real. It actually comes from a loss of privilege, but that doesn't mean they aren't sincere when they say it burns them up — particularly when politicians and talk radio hosts are constantly telling them how angry they should be.
The privilege I'm talking about is the one that derives from cultural hegemony. For most of this country's history, Christianity was so dominant in American life that no one else's culture needed to be considered in anything but an occasional way. If there were prayers in school, then of course they would be Christian prayers. If there were signs out for the holidays, of course they'd acknowledge only the Christian holiday.
But as the country grew more diverse in all kinds of ways, ignoring the growing minority of non-Christians no longer seemed like the neighborly thing to do. So among other things, department stores decided that to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone, they'd put up signs reading "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
Some Christians felt that this represented something being taken away from them, which it does. Their position of cultural dominance was undercut, so that when they walked through the department store door, their culture wasn't given a privileged place. Instead, they'd be no more or less important than anyone else.
Christians are still the majority in America, of course, but it's a majority that's rapidly shrinking. According to the Pew Research Center, just between 2007 and 2014, the share of Americans calling themselves Christian fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. The fastest-growing religious group in America is the "nones," who are either explicitly atheist or who don't consider themselves a part of any religion.
But it goes beyond just numbers. If you're a "traditional" Christian, the country has been moving farther and farther away from your values and worldview. Mores on sexuality, gender equality, parenting, and many other issues have become more and more liberal. Other people might think of those changes as the natural evolution of a society and a world in the process of constant and inevitable modernization. But if you're the one being left behind, it feels like something much worse.
The War on Christmas is a way of telling that story in a different way. In a war you can be the oppressed, a victim, even a martyr. But you can also become a hero. It takes the mundane activities of your day, like getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and lends them a profound drama and import.
It's also the perfect story for conservative talk radio and television, where outrage is the main course on every day's menu. That's why the War on Christmas is pumped up with the most enthusiasm by media figures like Bill O'Reilly for whom anger is the default emotional setting.
But the truth is that Christmas is doing just fine. All the stores and offices will be closed that day, Christmas trees will still dot the land, and the voices of carolers will rise to the heavens. And even now, you can still get your package of "Christmas Blend" coffee at Starbucks. Just like Jesus intended.