Probably seeking more TV appearances and speaking gigs, Sarah Palin has decided to enter the overcrowded “War on Christmas” market sector with a new book. Like all the other screeds on the subject, Palin’s version — Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas — takes up arms against a cast of alleged scoundrels frequently denounced by conservative talking heads.
Is Palin sick of the commercialization that has wrenched the season from its roots? Is she tired of Christmas sales that start before Thanksgiving? Has she had it with the bickering over parking spaces and shoving to get the most popular toy that inevitably accompany shopping at this time of year?
Ah, not so much. As Palin tells it, the gravest threats to the seriousness of the season are atheists who sue over public displays of the creche and shopkeepers who call out “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Just like every other right-wing talking head who comes out swinging at this time of year, she sees the problem as Americans who believe in the First Amendment, who speak to Allah when they pray, who understand the difference between public spaces and religious ones.
Her diatribe is not only ridiculously overwrought and paranoid, but it’s also redundant. Hasn’t Bill O’Reilly thoroughly covered this ground?
Still, we’re bound to be subjected to a month-long outcry over school calendars that mention “winter holidays” instead of “Christmas,” so it’s worth repeating the many ways in which Palin and her compatriots are wrong. Let’s start with history.
For the most part, the earliest American Christians did not celebrate Christmas at all. They didn’t believe celebrations were appropriate. The Puritans were a dour bunch who rebelled against the traditional Christmas festivities that had marked the season in 17th-century England: caroling, eating, drinking, carousing.
The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed any celebrations of Christmas, fining those who dared show any hint of merry-making. That likely would have included the errant greeting of “Merry Christmas!” (Increase Mather, the Billy Graham of his day, had a point about the December 25 anniversary, which he noted coincided with a pagan Roman celebration. Historians doubt that Jesus was actually born on that date.)
But the far bigger flaw in the “War on Christmas” arguments lies in a fundamental misreading of the U.S. Constitution and its traditions. Palin and her ilk claim to be faithful readers of the founding document, but their view of it — like their interpretation of the Bible — is narrow, limited and eccentric.