At this time of year, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the sacrifices of the men and women who have been fighting so bravely on our behalf lo these many years, waging a difficult battle against an enemy that seems to be everywhere at once. Though it may sometimes seem like their country has all but forgotten them, they remain firm in the belief that righteous victory will one day be theirs. I speak, of course, about those fighting in the War on Christmas.
And now, at last, it appears that long-sought victory may be at hand. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump regularly promised that should he be elected, the utterance of the words "Merry Christmas" would no longer be forbidden. And so it has come to pass. So enthusiastic are Trump's supporters about their newfound religious freedom that this past weekend in Mobile, Alabama, city officials chopped down a 50-foot tree from a public park so it could be used as a prop at a Trump rally.
But I have bad news for those hoping for a triumphant VC-Day full of ticker-tape parades and sailors in Times Square grabbing passing nurses for a smooch. The War on Christmas will never die, so long as Christmas lives. It's too important to a certain kind of Christian. And while I reserve my right to mock them for their ludicrous ideas about how Christmas is under attack, there is something real and sincere underlying their concern.
The War on Christmas in America has its roots all the way back with the Puritans, who thought the holiday was a vulgar celebration and actually banned it for a time. But in its contemporary incarnation, it dates back a decade to the publication of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, a book by John Gibson, then a Fox News host. When his colleague Bill O'Reilly took up Gibson's baton as a perfect vehicle for grievance-based outrage magnification, it took off. Before long any conservative worthy of the name was on board with the idea that vicious non-Christians were waging a war on our very way of life, with fields of battle spread across every department store and coffee shop.
Nothing more represents the war than the question of whether it's okay to wish someone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" — indeed, for many that seems to be the entirety of the war. And it's no accident.
Why would it be that if you're a retailer you might prefer to put up a "Happy Holidays" sign? The answer is simple: This is an increasingly diverse country, where everybody doesn't celebrate Christmas. Our American community includes Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Buddhists, and Sikhs, and people who don't belong to any religion. If you want to welcome and serve all of them, you find an inclusive way to do it.
That inclusion is just what makes some people seethe. That's the thing about privilege: It's easy not to notice it until someone takes it away. And what the War on Christmas armies want is a restoration of their privileged position, so that their religion is treated like the only religion — not just when they're in church or at prayer, but when they're engaged in emphatically secular activities, like entering a government building or shopping for some new socks.
When they worry that Christianity has lost its position, they're partly right — though it might be best described as a demotion from outright hegemony to mere dominance. While most Americans still consider themselves Christians, as a proportion of the population they've been dropping rapidly. Just between 2007 and 2014, the Pew Research Center found that Christians went from 78.4 percent of the population to 70.6 percent; by now the number is almost certainly under 70 percent. That change was driven by increasing numbers of people adhering to non-Christian faiths, but most importantly by a dramatic increase in those classified as "the nones," who claim no religious affiliation. They now make up nearly a quarter of the population — and over a third of millennials, suggesting that their numbers will only increase.
In the face of that decline — and a society that does indeed increasingly reject their values, particularly on things like sexuality — many conservative Christians have wholeheartedly embraced a narrative of victimization, in which they are cruelly oppressed by a culture that would see them driven underground, if not literally rounded up for extermination. Without any evidence of genuine oppression, they seize on things like the utterance of "Happy Holidays" as though it were the verbal equivalent of a punch in the face and not a well-intentioned effort to be polite to Christians and other people alike.
And it has, of course, become closely entwined with politics. Which is why a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 67 percent of Republicans felt that stores should not say "Happy Holidays" to their customers, while only 30 percent of Democrats felt the same way. Another poll found that 57 percent of Republicans believe there is indeed a war being waged on Christmas; only 14 percent of Democrats agreed.
So if you get a flutter of joy in your heart when you hear Donald Trump snarl "Merry Christmas" and think of all the Jews and Muslims who can go suck an egg, don't let a note of worry creep into your mind. This war that has given you such purpose will not be going away, no matter who controls the White House. It will come around every year, just like wreaths and sleigh bells and Santa Claus. The War on Christmas is forever.