I don’t watch Fox News. All those angry conservative white men in an incessant tirade give me a headache.
So I wasn’t up-to-snuff on the latest raging battle in the cultural war for the American mind and spirit — and dollar. I didn’t realize that when the Wal-Mart greeter wished me “happy holidays” I, as a Christian living in this predominantly Christian nation, should be offended. I just smiled back at her and wished her the same.
And when my Dad and sister showed up at the Big Duck holiday lighting ceremony in Flanders last week with their knickers in a twist, I was at first perplexed.
“He’s all worked up over this Christmas thing,” my exasperated sister informed me.
“Christmas thing?” I asked.
“You know. O’Reilly.” She assessed the blank look on my face and explained further.
Our Dad watches Fox constantly — except when there’s a Yankee or Ranger game on. Fox even blares on the TV in his bedroom all through the night — helps him sleep, he says. Go figure. And Bill O’Reilly? He’s the man. You can always get a glimpse of O’Reilly’s cause du jour by having a brief conversation with my Dad.
Her recitation of the latest O’Reilly-driven family flap completed, my sister gestured to the county showmobile stage and whispered, “I hope nobody says ‘happy holidays’ or else I’ll be hearing about it all the way home, too.’
It was the holiday lighting ceremony, after all, so that prospect seemed inevitable. But whatever ill will those “happy holiday” wishes might have generated was offset by the sight of his grandchildren singing traditional Christmas carols — and other songs — before the strand of colored lights around the Big Duck’s neck was lit and Santa arrived by fire truck.
I don’t argue these points with my father any more. Sparks flew at the dinner table every night during my teenage years, when we would argue about anything and everything. In the late 60s and early 70s, there were plenty of topics to choose from, too. My poor mother.
Sunday in Wal-Mart, I’m actually looking at boxed Christmas cards when my cell phone rings. It’s my Dad. He’s not happy when he hears where I am, and it’s not because he thinks I should be in church instead. When I tell him what I’m doing, he says he hopes I buy cards that say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays — if Wal-Mart even sells cards that say Merry Christmas, that is. Of course — maybe in response to my father yelling in my ear — I go for the secular version. (That’s how I became a Mets fan and a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.)
Now I happen to think there’s a whole host of valid reasons not to shop in Wal-Mart, but the greeter wishing me a “happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” isn’t one of them.
Bill O’Reilly wrote in his Dec. 1 column: “Corporate America should get down on its knees and thank God that the baby Jesus was born two thousand plus years ago.” I don’t get it, Bill. It’s OK for corporate America to exploit the birth of Christ for profit, as long as they acknowledge that “Jesus is the reason for the season” as they’re counting their loot?
Christians have had much to be offended by at this time of year for decades. I’m not talking about seeing menorahs lit next to crèches on public property or people using a secular phrase like “happy holidays.” The Christmas holiday in America hasn’t been about celebrating the baby Jesus for half a century at least. Who are we kidding? It’s been all about money — shopping and spending, even going into debt to do it. That’s the meaning of Christmas in America. So if you’re going to get offended about anything, Bill, as a Christian, that should be it. The celebration of the birth of Christ — which didn’t even happen in December, by the way; it was, ironically, placed on the calendar at this particular time of year by the early church in an effort to coopt a pagan holiday and win followers — has long been exploited for commercial gain by corporate America. It’s not about Jesus or any of the things he taught, like loving your neighbor and serving others.
It’s an excuse to sell things. One trip to The O’Reilly Christmas Store at billoreilly.com illustrates the point. There you can buy “The Spin Stops Here” fleece vests and “O’Reilly Factor” garment bags and a variety of “No Spin” mugs, pens, umbrellas, caps and dormats — even a tin with “No Spin” mints. There’s no Christ or Christmas at The O’Reilly Christmas Store. In fact, the only mention of God I could find there was a “God Bless America - No Spin Zone” license plate frame, specially priced for this holiday — um, I mean Christmas — season at just $17.95. Seems Mr. O’Reilly, the self-appointed guardian of American Christian values, understands the true meaning of Christmas: retail.
Even so, I’m not sure how much Jesus would mind, since the season seems to help people -of all religious persuasions to spread a little good will and cheer for a few weeks.
Until now. With Christmas made part of the conservatives’ cultural war, it’s been turned into another reason to mistrust, hate and fight one another. I’d bet Jesus would have something to say about that, for sure.