Fake News, Fake News, read all about it!
Over ten years ago conservative religious groups began talking about a “war on Christmas” that didn’t actually exist. They called for boycotts over the years on stores and restaurants whose advertising wasn’t “Christmassy” enough to suit them. There were numerous stories and memes and social media comments. One of the well known ones was that __________ department store told employees not to say Merry Christmas to customers. While this may have been true of some individual store manager somewhere, there is no evidence nor is it even likely that it was anyone’s corporate policy. I actually worked for a large national retailer for a number of Christmas seasons during this time under two different store managers. Neither directed anyone in what they could or could not say. One did suggest that we be observant of our customers and choose our responses accordingly. His suggestion had no religious overtones. His example was that the holidays were often difficult for people who had lost someone during the year or for families who were missing someone serving our country overseas. His idea that we be thoughtful of, and kind to, our customers rather than mindlessly offering a greeting seemed to me like the more “Christian” thing to do.
Some groups and some people, even ten years ago, seemed to want to be offended. I don’t know what motivated these people. I wonder if it might not have to do with a need to feel persecuted. Across the world there are places where Christians are actually persecuted. We are told in the Bible that followers will be persecuted and the disciples are examples of that truth. American Christians seem to have felt the need to create some kind of situation so they could claim to be persecuted. They created the fake news of a “war on Christmas”.
These claims, more political in intent than religious, have continued to come up over the years. In 2015-2016 the President made it part of his campaign. “If I become president, we’re going to be saying Merry Christmas at every store”, Trump stated. He has continued to bring it up at his post-election rallies. (It should be noted, of course, that he doesn’t have the power to make people or companies say certain things.)
So here we are, Christmas 2017. The President has an abysmally low approval rating so he’s spouting off about Christmas in an attempt to placate his far right evangelical base.
This is where it happens – when fake news becomes real.
I have been in way too many retail and food establishments over the last few weeks. I began noticing that hardly anyone was giving a seasonal greeting. I have had a total of three people actually say “Merry Christmas” to me. Further, they aren’t saying “Happy Holidays” either. They’re saying “thank you” or the standard “have a nice day”. I considered that maybe it was just my personal feelings influencing what I thought was happening so I ask some friends about their experiences. Many of their interactions echoed mine. Then I saw this tweet and responses about it from people who likely live in an entirely different part of the country.
So, at the very least, less people are actually saying Merry Christmas than in years past. Further, when I said Merry Christmas to a clerk as I checked out earlier this month she was unsure how to respond. She looked at me a little funny and said, “Uh, thank you?” That’s when I started paying attention everywhere I went. I realized, unfortunately, “Merry Christmas” has been turned into a political statement and most people don’t want to be associated with it. The truth is, I don’t either. Sadly, I’ve quit saying Merry Christmas to salespeople and waitresses I don’t know.
The fake war on Christmas has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.