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A Last Dispatch from the 2001 Christmas Front
A little over one month ago, "Chronicles" printed my essay "Happy Holidays? Bah, Humbug!" and VDARE.com used it to kick off its annual War Against Christmas Competition. Since then, I have received a steady stream of correspondence on the essay–some of it sharply critical, but most of it extremely favorable. Now that the Feast of the Epiphany has passed in the churches of the West - traditionally the time Christmas decorations are taken down - I thought it might be a good time to give VDARE.com's readers an account from the front lines.
Of course, not everyone liked the essay. I learned that my piece was "ungenerous," "unchristian," "inflammatory," "malicious, ignorant, and arrogant," and "so offensive as to demand immediate and forceful rebuttal." I also picked up some revealing history lessons, showing that those discomfited by the public celebration of Christmas tended to subscribe to the darkest possible view of Christianity. For example, I learned that "if [Jews] do not have an equivalent of a Bach Christmas Oratorio, it is because Christians had them penned up in ghettos until the mid-18th century." The same correspondent also hastened to remind me of "the hatred the Christian has manifested for non-Christians in the last thousand years" and of "the arrogance of the Christians in refusing to accept that others may not believe as they do."
My essay reminded a Hindu correspondent that "Christians came to these shores running away from persecution only to wipe out the native population and unleash slavery." He also implied that the recent spate of killings of Christians in India, though deplorable, was the result of the "aggressive and virulent approach" taken by Christian missionaries in India. (Interestingly, Hindu extremists in India said similar things about Mother Teresa.) I suspect that if I had written about non-Christians in a comparable manner, my essay would have received much more attention than it did.
Tellingly, some of my correspondents also regarded the current assault on Christmas as rough justice for past misdeeds. Although my Hindu correspondent deplored the commercialization of Christmas, and even expressed agreement with some of my points, he also wrote that "what is good for the goose is good for the gander as well. Most missionary-run schools in India ... getting tax-payer funded government aid restrain their students from wearing flowers and having forehead decorations since these are seen as Hindu."
I must confess, though, that it was not immediately apparent to me why American schools should consider how missionary schools are run in India when deciding whether to allow American children to sing Christmas carols.
Another correspondent thought that my nephew's wondering why our family did not observe Hanukkah or Kwanzaa represented "a small dose of what Jewish children have experienced for decades. Until recently Jewish children were inundated with celebrations of Christmas in all public places, including schools."
Of course, these examples are not really symmetrical. A Jewish child wondering about Christmas is reflecting simple numerical reality: most of his countrymen do celebrate Christmas. A Christian child wondering why his family does not celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa is reflecting, not numerical reality, but a concerted effort to drive signs of America's Christian and Western heritage out of our public places.
Despite the invective, my critical correspondents were earnest and generally well-meaning. More to the point, they did not fundamentally disagree with me. None of them wrote that Christmas was thriving as never before. None of them suggested that the alternative holidays fostered by the multiculturalists were being elevated for their intrinsic worth, rather than their proximity to Christmas. (Indeed, I was assured that "no Jew denies that Hanukkah has grown in importance out of all proportion to its significance.") And none of them disputed that multiculturalism was serving to eclipse Christmas.
This critical trickle, though, was overwhelmed by a flood of correspondence from people who liked the essay. (Indeed, I am continuing to hear from people who liked it, as those who initially read the piece are now sharing it with friends and family.) And this positive correspondence came from a broad spectrum of Americans, from university professors and secretaries and schoolteachers, from all manner of Christians and even some non-Christians. One Jewish correspondent agreed that the public elevation of Hanukkah was not a good thing, nor in keeping with Jewish tradition: "You are right. And it does much harm to the sense of perspective that Jewish kids walk away from all of this with. The irony is that the educators who push this pap are only nominally Jewish. Hanukkah is essentially a holiday to be celebrated in the home and not in the streets or the public places."
Nor was this positive response confined to conservatives. The essay did appear in Chronicles, on VDARE. com, and in Middle American News–all basically conservative outlets. And it was quoted at length by two nationally-prominent conservative commentators, Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis. But an abridged version also appeared the Sunday before Christmas in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh's major newspaper. Since the Post-Gazette has a conservative competitor, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, it is likely that many of the Pittsburghers who applauded the essay were not ideological conservatives.
The positive response I received was extremely heartening, because it reflected a great love for Christmas and evinced a willingness to defend this splendid holiday. One correspondent wrote, "All I can say about your article, is that it made me cry and Amen." Another wrote, "I read your editorial on Sunday morning and didn't know whether I wanted to jump up and cheer or sit quietly and cry (so I eventually did both!!)." One school board member said she would use the essay to fight the War against Christmas, vowing to share it with the district's superintendent and principals and with her fellow board members. (She also related a skirmish in the War against Christmas from her Pittsburgh area district: a mother was recently given permission to stage a Hanukkah party for all the second grade classes but another mother who wanted to speak to the children about Christmas was rebuffed.)
One of the letters to the editor published by the Post-Gazette perfectly captured the great love of Christmas, and the willingness to defend it, that I saw in so many other letters. Bernice Renkawek told the readers of the Post-Gazette:
"I am ashamed to say that for the past few years, I have found myself becoming so entangled in political correctness that my own holiday has suffered as a result. I realized this year that it had gotten completely out of control when I didn't wish my regular bus driver a "Merry Christmas" because I didn't know how it would be taken.
I wish Mr. Piatak's article had been printed sooner. I wish I had kept my Polish backbone and not given a hoot as to what people would think if I had wished them a Merry Christmas. And above all, I wish I hadn't pushed the celebration of the birth of Jesus into the back seat, under a blanket, where it couldn't be seen and, therefore, wouldn't offend anyone.
Mr. Piatak said it quite simply. The holiday is Christmas. Period. And such a beautiful and wonderful holiday it is. Thanks to him, from now on I will do exactly what I feel in my heart."
My conclusion, after sifting through the reaction to my piece, is that there are a lot of people like Bernice Renkawek out there, who will gladly join in the defense of Christmas and be grateful to anyone who champions this incomparable holiday.
The question is, are any of our public figures brave enough, or smart enough, to seize this opportunity?
January 07, 2002