SMITH: The fight for inclusivity in Christmas

In this new year, let us stop waging culture wars


Christmas is anything but an exclusive holiday, spotted with pockets of cultural influence from all parts of the globe. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For many, Christmas season is synonymous with holiday cheer, festive lights and visiting Santa Claus at the mall. However, the magic of Christmas fades under politicization. The so-called “War on Christmas,” whose supporters seek to prove Christian persecution within a liberal-dominated politically correct society. These arguments fall flat under further examination of Christmas  — the holiday has always included elements of multiple religions and cultures, truly capturing the multiculturalism of the season. In light of Christmas’ true nature, cultural warriors should stop exploiting the holiday as a divisive spear between Americans.

To understand Christmas as a strictly Christian domain is incorrect. From its conception, Christmas has enveloped aspects of pagan traditions. The early Catholic Church established Dec. 25 as the official date of Christmas Day in order to gain more observers of the holiday — Pope Julius I used Jesus' birth as a means of political maneuvering. The very popular Roman festival of Saturnalia had existed around the same time decades prior as a “reversal holiday,” in which hierarchical roles were flipped for a day. Elements that exist today from Saturnalia include communal gift giving and banquet feastings, thus beginning Christmas’ layered cultural roots.

By the same token, the figure of St. Nicholas from the Catholic tradition, was a mutation of earlier Roman mythology. In the original reiteration, Saturn was a figure of extreme fertility, the “Saturnalicus princeps,” who could only grace the earth once a year. However, the influence Dutch narrative tradition morphed the character of “Saturnalicus princeps” into St. Nick, with extreme fertility switching into generosity. In the present times, St. Nicholas is more commonly known as Santa Claus, a figure mostly sanitized of religion and associated with contemporary commercialism.

Traditional Christmas music also has multicultural roots. Writers of the some of the most iconic Christmas songs were Jewish — Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” and Mel Tormé co-wrote “The Christmas Song.” Jay Livingston penned the classic “Silver Bells,” while Jewish artist Robert L. May drew Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Other songs of the season have international, diverse origins. “Feliz Navidad” was written by Jose Feliciano, a blind Puerto Rican musical genius, who has 19 Grammy nominations. Mariah Carey, a superstar singer of African, Irish and Venezuelan descent wrote the smash hit “All I Want for Christmas is You.” The Peanuts cartoons’ animator of Bill Menendez hails from Sonora, Mexico.

Given this context, Christmas is anything but an exclusive holiday, spotted with pockets of cultural influence from all parts of the globe. Because of this, it’s hard to take seriously the cries from cultural warriors who claim Christmas persecution, a trend that erupted within the last decade, beginning with John Gibson’s book “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.” While the book was originally publicized on Fox News radio, the cultural phenomenon of “Christmas under attack” only exploded under the non-defunct O’Reilly Factor show, a cause that Bill O’Reilly personally championed. 

With President Donald Trump commenting on the issue as legitimate, claiming that “We’re going to say Merry Christmas again” — it’s even more crucial that we reexamine the case against Christmas. The songs and contemporary customs mentioned earlier are still widely heard and practiced. Even the simple debate of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” is a red herring — “Happy Holidays” has been in use for century in American society, and not a recent facet of PC run-amuck. Simply, the phrase has been in use by many Americans to show cheer and respect for all holiday traditions, including Christmas.

There’s nothing wrong with turning a close eye on our Christmas customs. Recent discussions the lyrics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and its connections to rape culture are worth continuing. Some may even want to discuss the power dynamics between reindeer and Santa. Nevertheless, it’s much more fruitful to scrutinize the aspects within the culture rather than draw lines between people — on the basis of faith, race, ethnicity or nationality. Rather than waste time on Starbucks cup boycotts or the Obama’s holiday card, let us be reminded of the inclusivity of Christmas and its sweeping legacy. Christmas is for everyone. As Tiny Tim says: “God bless us, everyone.”

Katherine Smith is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She may be reached at

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