War Against Christmas 2008: Christopher Hitchens` War Against Christmas

[I] [II] [III]

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Those claiming to doubt the
existence of the War against Christmas need only read
the annual anti-Christmas rants of

Christopher Hitchens,

which are prominently featured at
Slate. Indeed,
this year Slate
Hitchens` column with the title
"My War on
and accompanied it with an illustration
of the

dyspeptic Briton

kicking Santa Claus.

Hitchens is open about his
intention: "My own wish is more ambitious: to write an anti-Christmas column that
becomes fiercer every year while remaining, in essence,
the same."
the Season To Be Incredulous
December 15, 2008] And Hitchens` open disdain
for Christmas, and the

religion that gave it birth,

neither harms Hitchens with

leftist editors
with his many admirers in the
The brief biographical tagline at the end of
Hitchens` column identifies him both as a
"columnist for

Vanity Fair

and as "the
Roger S. Mertz media fellow
at the Hoover Institution."

For most "mainstream
full-throated support for the Iraq War is apparently
enough to excuse his War against Christmas and against

Hitchens` complaint is that
Christmas is "a
moral and aesthetic nightmare,"
and that at
Christmas "the United States .
. . turns itself into the cultural and commercial
equivalent of a one-party state,"
"the image and
the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere."


Leaving aside the fact that the
public celebration of Christmas has diminished during
Hitchens` time in America (he`s

lived here

since Reagan`s first term) as a result of the

War Against Christmas

Hitchens` comparison of Christ to

Kim Jong Il
is offensive, and the rest of his
argument is simply stupid. [Watch
Hitchens on YouTube

Tom Lehrer
`s parody,

A Christmas Carol.

One-party states are

for their violent suppression of
Christmas, including the

one-party state of Lenin and Trotsky
continues to applaud. More importantly, the public
celebration of Christmas in America is the result of
, not public coercion. In fact, government
action in the United States generally results in

suppression of Christmas
, as

crèches disappear from town squares

go unsung in

school concerts
under the threat of lawsuits.

If Hitchens is serious about
wanting to avoid Christmas, maybe he should make his
next home the birthplace of the
"Dear Leader," North Korea.

Hitchens` claim that Christmas
represents a
"moral and aesthetic nightmare"
is equally obtuse;
in fact, it is the inverse of the truth. Christianity is
the moral basis of Western civilization, and Christmas
especially is marked by countless acts of Christian
charity, and numerous donations that help all manner of
charities to continue their work throughout the year.

Does Hitchens really


Salvation Army
bell ringers who enable that
organization to do its exemplary and cost-efficient
work? And the spirit of charity that characterizes
Christmas has been embraced and even furthered by

Charles Dickens

not an orthodox Christian
, but in the
English-speaking world Christmas inevitably brings to
mind his great and justly loved tale of the moral
redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a tale that has helped
further the

of generosity that

continues to mark Christmas.

As Fred tells Scrooge at the
of Dickens` novel
, in words that have become
familiar to most of us,

"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come
round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name

, if anything can be apart from that—as a good
time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the
only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year,
when men and women seem by one consent to open their
shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them
as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave,
and not another race of creatures bound on other

And far from being an
Christmas was instrumental in creating
the Western artistic tradition. I noted in my article
to Win the War Against Christmas
in the
December issue of
Chronicles that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ
and the mystery of the Incarnation. But it is also the
celebration that most helped shape the West. As Thomas

in his Mysteries of the Middle Ages,

"Roman Christians found their attention drawn to the
most down-to-earth aspect of the
doctrine: the Infleshing, the
Incarnation, the Making of the God-Man. What, they asked
themselves, are the practical consequences—to human
beings—of the Word becoming Flesh? From this question
will flow, with some notable divagations, the main
course of what was to become

Western Christianity

Although Roman Christians
"agreed in principle" with their Greek coreligionists that Easter
was the "supreme
Christian feast,"

"in practice they
came to prefer Christmas."
A And this preference for
Christmas had profound consequences.

Cahill tells the story of how

Saint Francis of Assisi
created the first crèche at
Midnight Mass in Greccio. In the words of

Saint Bonaventure
, Francis

"made ready a manger, and bade hay, together with an ox
and an ass, be brought unto the place."

Cahill focuses on why Francis did
this: "I wish to make a memorial of that child who was born in Bethlehem and, as far as
possible, behold with bodily eyes the hardships of his
infant state, lying on hay in a manger with the ox and
the ass standing by."
By trying to recreate
"as far as
what had happened in Bethlehem, Francis
had, according to Cahill, asked a
"wholly new
a question that was
emotional, particular, and human: what would it have
been like to be there?"

This emphasis on realism, so
different from the Christian iconography that
characterized Eastern religious art, meant that
"In the town of
on Christmas night in 1223 were born the arts as we
still know them."

A generation later, Giotto,
"throughout his adult life a
Franciscan tertiary

that scene in Greccio
in fresco in the magnificent
basilica built to commemorate Francis in
, and the first Christmas
is part of his equally famous frescoes in the

Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

Catholicism, informed by a

Franciscan spirit,
pushed him toward a nearly
scientific quest to reproduce more exactingly in art the
very things his eyes could see, his hands could touch,
his heart could love—and preeminently among these
lovable things was the human body itself."

And this realism, grounded in the
incarnational theology of the
, had a profound impact:

work is done. His influence on generations to come,
whether direct or indirect, on sculptors as well as
painters, on Renaissance and modern artists as well as
late-medieval ones—on Pisano, Ghiberti, Donatello, the
Della Robbias, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Piero della
Francesca, and Mantegna, on the inevitable trio of
Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and perhaps
especially on that most inspired supernaturalist
Caravaggio—will be immeasurable. . . . And that is how
life became art."

Thus, it is no exaggeration to
state that the Western artistic tradition is
inextricably linked to the celebration of Christmas.

We are reminded of this great
tradition whenever we buy one of the Postal Service`s
Christmas stamps, which each year feature a painting of
the Madonna and Child by one of the masters of the
Western artistic tradition. (This year, the
features a portion of

Virgin and Child with the Young John the Baptist

found in the
Cleveland Museum of Art
; sadly, the Museum

described the stamp as a
"holiday stamp"

in its December
Members Magazine,
even though the Postal Service
on the stamp).

the Cleveland Museum of Art

To be sure, there are some tacky
Christmas songs and displays, but only someone
completely lacking in imagination will let those obscure
the profound beauty that has always marked Christmas and
that can still be found by those willing to look.

Almost everyone enjoys seeing
Christmas trees

Christmas lights
, and there is enough variety in the
great treasury of Christmas music—from high art such as

Handel`s Messiah

Bach`s Christmas Oratorio
to great, heartfelt carols such as
Silent Night,
The First Noel, and Angels We
Have Heard On High
, to outstanding examples of

American songwriting
such as

The Christmas Song

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
—to please
almost every musical taste.

That Hitchens is incapable of
enjoying any of this is sad enough. That he and the

rest of those waging War Against Christmas
want to
prevent the rest of us from doing so is inexcusable.

Christopher Hitchens).

Tom Piatak

him) writes from Cleveland, Ohio.