O’Reilly on the Christmas warpath

The “save Christmas” hysteria this year seems to be worse than ever (though that’s what I thought last year, too). I mean, okay, some of the ACLU-type handwringing over creches on public grounds gets ridiculous, but John Gibson carrying on about “the plot to ban the sacred Christian holiday”? Bill O’Reilly urging a boycott of stores that use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and pursuing investigative reports on various stores’ Christmas policies with a zeal he normally reserves for criminal-coddling judges? O’Reilly has become truly unhinged on the subject. One of his latest rants is analyzed by Michael Stickings at The Moderate Voice: O’Reilly carries on about a “very secret plan,” funded by his bogeyman George Soros, to “diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A.” by attacking Christmas. (Stickings also picks up on one of O’Reilly’s favorite rhetorical tricks: to get around that pesky “establishment of religion” problem, he’ll argue that things like Ten Commandment displays in government buildings are not about “religion” but about “Judeo-Christian philosophy.”)

And then John Cole offers us this O’Reilly Christmas gem (via Think Progress):

Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable. More than enough reason for business to be screaming “Merry Christmas.”

Well, for one thing, this is pretty stupid. Without Christmas, we might all have been exchanging gifts for Solstice (in which, it’s widely agreed, modern-day Christmas celebrations are rooted; let’s not forget that until well into the 19th Century, Christian America frowned upon Christmas as a pagan-style holiday). But leaving that aside: here’s O’Reilly fulminating against the assault on religion and, in the same breath, peddling the most secular, commercial, materialistic view of Christmas imaginable. (I mean, from a truly Christian perspective, America’s business leaders should be thanking Jesus for being born because he offers them a chance at salvation and life everlasting, and his impact on profit margins should be a decidedly secondary matter.) The irony is dripping right off the TV screen.

Tonight, I tuned in to The O’Reilly Factor near the end to see an interview with the Rev. Tim Bumgardner, a pastor in Wellington, Florida, who is fighting to have a nativity scene included in his town’s holiday display (which currently has a Christmas tree and a menorah). Okay, I’m all for having the nativity scene in there, though my sympathy for Rev. Bumgardner waned quickly when he suggested that people who have issues with Christmas displays on government property are un-American. Luckily, I kept watching, because the segment had a truly jaw-dropping conclusion. When O’Reilly gave the Reverend the last word, the following exchange occurred (transcribed by yours truly from the taped rerun):

Rev. Tim Bumgardner: I think they should put a Nativity scene — be American! Hey, celebrate Christmas — people spend more money! Jesus makes people want to spend money!

O’Reilly: I agree. I’m with you.

So there’s the Christmas spirit according to O’Reilly and his guest: shopping for Jesus.

As a non-Christian, I don’t presume to tell Christians how they ought to feel, but really … shouldn’t this be a lot more offensive to Christians than a “Happy Holidays” sign at Macy’s?

Update: This is hilarious. On November 30, Media Matters reported that in apparent defiance of the O’Reilly/Gibson anti-“Happy Holidays” crusade, the Fox News online store was using the phrases “holiday ornaments” and “holiday tree.” One day later, the Fox website changed “holiday” to “Christmas.” See the “before” and “after” pictures here.

26 Comments

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26 responses to “O’Reilly on the Christmas warpath

  1. Anonymous

    It should be more offensive, but somehow I doubt it will be. Technically, the fact that O’Reilly and his crazy brethren are toting Christmas as the most sacred Christian holiday should be more offensive than whether K-mart greets their patrons as Christmas shoppers or Holiday shoppers. The sacred Christian holiday is still Easter, thank you very much. Christmas is a holy festival with good advertising.

  2. bk

    This is a culture war evergreen, we were warning about it over at centerfield a month ago, and we’ve gota lengthy thread on it.

    Is this about greeting people, giving them a heartfelt saluation, or is it a true battle of ideas? This battle is really between the partisans on the fringes. The most fundamental of indoctrinating christians are not representative of mainstream but slightly conservative cultural views. Nor are indoctrinating lefty college prof ideologues ot litigious atheists representative of mainstream but somewhat liberal cultural views. Yet such are the folk that are dominating the dialogue by being noisy and relentless, and finding clever ways to get everyday people all bent out of shapoe about what should really be a non-issue so long as we remain decent to one another.

    Here’s the thing. For the vast majority of everyday Americans on the streets, in the shops, at the malls, at the schools, libraries, and town halls, it really IS about greeting someone, about simply wanting to find a good way to express heartfelt salutations to fellow townfolk, shoppers, parents, colleagues, co-workers, etc. And most of these everyday people really don’t want the way they choose to wish people well to become subject to some political litmus test.

    I’m reminded of a Seinfeld episode. Jerry is in the dressing room before a tonight show appearance when his and George’s parents, who are visiting to wish Jerry good luck, begin a foolish argument. And Jerry says “I know this doesn’t look like work to you, but if you could please conduct the psychopath convention out in the hall….”

    I feel the same way. Take it out in the hall, off the TV, out of my house, off the radio.

    The people encouraging this fight, fanning the flames of controversy and increasingly politicizing everything are making the holiday season more stressful by insisting that we all need to fight about what it should be about and how we should act. The ultimate goal of those most passionate about the culture war is to get as many people as possible to find a way to fight this war everyday, in every possible aspect of daily life.

    Such people are exhausting. We need to protect our lifes from such time vampires, who see to rob us of life’s important moments by sucking us into their world of petty contention.

  3. Cathy Young

    bk: I hope I’m not committing a religious lapse if I say, “Amen.”

    I’ll check out the thread.

  4. Pooh

    bk,

    Best take I’ve read on the subject. On one hand, I could get all worked up by this lunacy. On the other, that only means the lunatics on both sides win, because they get to keep talking.

    Christmas is my dad’s favorite day of the year. And he’s Jewish. Go figure.

  5. Revenant

    My parents are Christians. They don’t care about the “Happy Holidays” thing. They will, however, grouse at length about bogus modern holidays like Kwanzaa.

  6. thecobrasnose

    An important aspect of Christmas you miss in the hubaloo is plain tradition. A huge part of Christmas for a huge number of Americans is the traditional sights and sounds and greetings. When they are banned or discouraged, especially by legal means which imply some sort of wrongdoing or societal offence, the cultural memory of the season is diminished. Surely that’s worth a bit of outrage?

  7. Anonymous

    Cobrasnose,

    Sure. We’d all be outraged if any symbol of Christmas was outright banned everywhere.. if people had to meet in secret to celebrate.. yada yada. But to just limit it somewhat on government property? How is that so outrageous? I mean I agree that it is pretty silly to have a ‘holiday’ tree, and that sometimes the ACLU gets its panties in a bunch and goes crazy. But jeez, everyone in the this country is perfectly free to put as many nativity scenes in their front yard as they want. It isn’t Christian persecution if there isn’t a nativity scene at city hall.

    ‘Happy Holidays’ isn’t Christian persecution either. It is just shorter and easier to put that in a store window than ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy Hanukkah’, and ‘Happy Solstice’. I mean it doesn’t matter what faith and what celebration your shoppers are going for, you want them all to be attracted to your store.

    Z

  8. Revenant

    But to just limit it somewhat on government property? How is that so outrageous?

    It isn’t that it is “outrageous”, but simply that it used to be allowed and now, for somewhat questionable reasons, isn’t, despite most people wanting it to be. Christians feel that they’ve lost something because, well, they have. Whether they deserved it in the first place is a separate issue; what matters is that there are people who grew up seeing a nativity scene in the town square, and now, despite the popular will of the people, its presence has been banned. Obviously they’re going to feel sad and upset about that.

    The significance of the holiday has also been diluted in recent decades. First, by the elevation of Hanukkah (a fairly unimportant holiday in Judaism until Jewish parents got sick of hearing their kids complain about the lack of toys) and later with modern inventions like Kwanzaa and the neo-pagan Solstice (which yeah, I know, was practiced for real a zillion years ago, but not by people of the faith practicing it now). I can see how Christians might feel like other people are horning in on “their” holiday season and trying to claim an equal status which is, at least from a cultural and historical perspective, undeserved. Let’s be honest — if Christmas hasn’t paved the way in making late December a modern-day time of celebration, none of the other holidays would have any noticable cultural significance at all.

    Which doesn’t mean O’Reilly’s right, of course. He has a habit of taking extremely minor grievances and making them sound like the worst thing since the Bataan Death March.

  9. reader_iam

    Jesus makes people want to spend money!

    To be “pithy,” as O’Reilly puts it:

    My response

  10. reader_iam

    This is also putting me in mind of great scene in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” in which an artist, Frederick (masterfully played by Max Von Sydow) has just spent some time flipping television channels and is now ranting about all the drek.

    He winds up with the immortal line:

    “If Jesus came back, and saw what was going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

    That pretty much says it all …

  11. Anonymous

    I suggest that someone get Bill O’Reilly to agree that we should celebrate Christmas the way the founders of our country did.

    Wait for him to agree.

    Then spring it on him that celebrating Christmas publicly was against the law in colonial Massachutsetts (the Puritans thought it was pagan), and the first Congress was in session on Christmas day, which was a regular work day. It continued to be a work day for government employees well into the 1900s.

    To a believing Christian, Easter should matter far more than Christmas.

  12. Revenant

    To a believing Christian, Easter should matter far more than Christmas.

    Have any of the people in question actually said “Christmas is more important that Easter”?

  13. Ross

    Revenanat,

    What the poster before me said, but I’ll just add that Christmas really muscled in on the solstice’s territory, if you want to get technical about it.

  14. Cathy Young

    cobrasnose, I actually agree with you, and I think people who have been getting hysterical about Christmas lights in a firehouse are obnoxious jerks (and zealots). I didn’t mind it at all when O’Reilly and others talked about ridiculous stuff like a law school removing a Christmas tree from a lounge because a single person complained, etc. But I think we’ve gotten to the point where the reaction has gotten as bad as the original problem, with the campaign against “Happy Holidays.”
    Incidentally, as I think James Lileks has documented, the shift from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings” (in commerce) actually began in the 1950s.

    About Christmas having to “share space” with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.: interestingly, I know Jews who consider the “Chrismukkah” phenomenon (i.e. the integration of Christmas and Hanukkah into a Judeo-Christian “holiday season”) annoying if not downright offensive. Originally, Hanukkah was a very, very minor Jewish holiday, which many believe has grown inordinately in stature because of its proximity to Christmas. Some Jews believe that the obeisance paid to Hanukkah in the public square, ostensibly intended to be inclusive toward Jews, actually results in a distortion of the Jewish tradition by the majority culture (i.e. the elevation of a minor holiday into a major one that eclipses the really major holidays).

  15. Mark B.

    . . if Christmas hasn’t paved the way in making late December a modern-day time of celebration, none of the other holidays would have any noticable cultural significance at all.

    And if American Christians had stuck to their historic tradition of celebrating Christmas as a quiet, primarily family-focused holiday, no one would be raising a fuss about any of this. The obsession with covering every square inch of every town and city with gaudy Xmas decor and filling every store with hordes of consumers has nothing to do with Christianity – it’s a legacy of the rise of American mass-marketing in the 1890’s, as well as that ass Clement Clark Moore (or whoever it was that really wrote The Night Before Christmas). When a fat guy in a red suit distributing largess with gay abandon became the symbol of Christmas, it was all downhill from there.

    I can see someone being mildly upset if a creche cannot be displayed on the courthouse lawn, but boycotting stores because you don’t approve of how they greet their clientele during the holiday season is utterly moronic, and carrying on a crusade to “save Christmas” when we’re bombarded with it from every side is even worse.

  16. Revenant

    And if American Christians had stuck to their historic tradition of celebrating Christmas as a quiet, primarily family-focused holiday, no one would be raising a fuss about any of this.

    You’re missing the point. Christians invented the modern-day practice of having a big end-of-year celebration. The idea had been dead for a long, long time prior to that. Other people of other faiths decided that was a cool idea, and that they wanted in on the action — but, you know, not actually celebrate Christmas itself. I can see why that might be a bit annoying to Christians.

    If Christians had “stuck to their historic tradition”, the America would be a duller and lamer place. Christmas kicks ass. I’m an atheist and it is by far my favorite time of year. Atheists who throw a hissy-cow about it need to have their heads examined, in my humble opinion. Relax, guys; have an eggnog.

    ross — the religions Christmas “muscled in on” have been dead for centuries. If there were still Mithraists around, they’d have cause for complaint. 🙂

  17. Anonymous

    The 19th century bit is incorrect. Christmas has been celebrated in the U.S. since colonial times, and of course, in all areas which have been greatly influenced by Christianity. I agree with the post as a whole, but this is just simply incorrect

  18. Cathy Young

    Anonymous, actually, you’re incorrect — see more on the history of Christmas in America here, here and here.

  19. PCS

    If it wasn’t for the Roman Emperor Constantine we would probably be celebrating ‘Mithramas’ instead of Christmas. Worship of ‘Mithra’ was the primary religious competitor to Christianity up until the 4th century CE.

  20. The Heretik

    The Devil Dog who believes in keeping the X in Xmas is howling now at the moon for the likes of Bill “Shop til You Drop Your Opposition to Christmas” O’Reilly.

  21. mythago

    I always thought ‘Happy Holidays’ was supposed to reflect the fact that we celebrate New Year’s soon after Christmas.

    but simply that it used to be allowed and now, for somewhat questionable reasons, isn’t, despite most people wanting it to be

    That’s kind of backwards. It used to be allowed for somewhat questionable reasons but now we recognize that, geez, it isn’t OK for the government to be de facto supporting one faith (no matter how ‘traditional’).

    The ACLU gets its panties in a bunch because of called precedent. You may be familiar with phrases such as “the camel’s nose in the tent” or “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”. Given that there are, in fact, far-right Christians who really are determined to create government sponsorship of their faith, it behooves the ACLU to be a little paranoid. They overreact so you don’t have to. 🙂

  22. Gay

    Keith Olbermann on Countdown (I think it was the day when O’Reilly swept all three “Worst Person in the World” awards) made the point about the use of ‘holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’, and it was changed the next day.

  23. Revenant

    That’s kind of backwards. It used to be allowed for somewhat questionable reasons but now we recognize that, geez, it isn’t OK for the government to be de facto supporting one faith (no matter how ‘traditional’).

    I disagree. The courts have found that “In God We Trust” is allowable, as is “One Nation Under God”. Yet Christmas displays aren’t, even though plenty of non-Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. The courts’ reasoning is very shaky here.

    The ACLU gets its panties in a bunch because of called precedent. You may be familiar with phrases such as “the camel’s nose in the tent” or “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”.

    I’m familiar with the ACLU’s attitude on the subject, yes, but I haven’t noticed that it has any correlation to reality. I used to bemoan the imminent Christian takeover too, but then I realized that it simply wasn’t happening — that decades of Christmas displays had not led to theocracy or anything like it. And then I further realized that when you deny a supermajority of the population reasonable concessions, they’re more likely to push for unreasonable ones.

    Plus, another way of looking at this is that every dollar spent on trivial crap like national mottos and Nativity scenes is a dollar *not* spent fighting on keeping Creationism out of schools, on preventing an anti-gay-marriage amendment, etc.

  24. Cathy Young

    Revenant, interesting points.

    It’s interesting that in Western Europe, where the society is in general far more secular than in the U.S., Christmas displays (complete with Nativity scenes) are quite unproblematic.

  25. William R. Barker

    Cathy writes: …John Gibson carrying on about “the plot to ban the sacred Christian holiday”…

    Bill replies: Gibson is out to have fun and make money while advancing his ideas. It’s really that simple.

    Cathy writes: Bill O’Reilly urging a boycott of stores that use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and pursuing investigative reports on various stores’ Christmas policies with a zeal he normally reserves for criminal-coddling judges? O’Reilly has become truly unhinged on the subject.

    Bill replies: Yeah… he’s crazy like a fox! He’s making a bleeding fortune, Cathy, with his mixture of populist bomblast and “pithy” (*GRIN*) presentation. Personally, I only agree with O’Reilly 70%-80% of the time, but I’m one of the folks (*GRIN*) who have made the guy a multi-millionaire. (And btw… while I often gnash my teeth watching O’Reilly go off half-cocked… I also think that when he’s playing it straight he’s a heck of a journalist. You just need to separate his entertainer persona from his commentator persona from his newsman persona. Frankly, I’d love to see him along with Tim Russert and Chris Wallace take as the moderators of the 2008 Presidential Debates.

    Cathy writes: Without Christmas, we might all have been exchanging gifts for Solstice…

    Bill replies: Cathy… (ha! ha! ha!)… you’ve gotta be KIDDING!!! Oh, Cath… that was FUNNY!!!

    Face it, kiddo. O’Reilly is absolutely right on target with his commentary on the outflow of consumer cash (and credit unfortunately) dedicated to celebrating the birth (September… December… once a year is once a year) of the baby Jesus. (*SMILE*)

    *** Yeah, Cath… I’m just imagining Rankin & Bass Winter Solstice claymation specials! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Oh, Cath… you crack me up! (*GRIN*)

  26. Anonymous

    Hey Revenant,

    Haven’t had time to respond until now. You certainly have a point about what the traditionalists have lost. Also, it is a seperate issue whether they should have had it to begin with. It makes me wonder whether this debate is time limited. The younger generations have not grown up with nativity scenes on public property, and therefore don’t have that expectation. It may be that, as the boomers and their parents die off, this debate will also. (That is, of course, provided that the rules don’t change again… which they might!)

    Just as an aside, despite the fact I am an atheist, I do a little low key celebrating over the winter solstice every year. It has nothing to do with the pagans. It is all about the fact that I HATE the long nights in winter. The winter solstice is the turning point. From that point on, the days will get longer and longer. For me, that is worth celebrating, along with Christmas.

    It really is a great time of year, despite all the shopping stress. People should definitely lighten up.

    Z

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