Home Perspectives Opinions The anti-Semitic roots of the ‘War on Christmas’

The anti-Semitic roots of the ‘War on Christmas’

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Christmas decorations light up the Parliament building in Ottawa in 2018. (Joanne Clifford/CC BY 2.0)

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” proclaimed Edward Pola and George Wyle, a pair of Jewish composers. Fifty-six years ago, they penned the hit song about family gatherings, holiday parties and the retelling of the Christmas tale from “long, long ago.” It summed up everything that Christians, and non-believers, love about the holiday.

As Jews, many of us love the parties, the music, the reunions and the decorations. While we don’t go to church, we often hear the retelling of the Christmas story by watching classic holiday films.

The one tradition that really irks many of us is the dubious claim that there’s a “War on Christmas,” an idea that is both anti-Semitic and xenophobic.

So I’d like to add the War on Christmas to the list of other bigoted buzzwords that shouldn’t be applied to Jews, or anyone else. Then, if people continue to use them, there will be little doubt of their intentions. Here’s a primer:

“New York lawyers (and bankers)”: those are Jews; “Hollywood Culture”: that means Jewish; “secularists” and “internationalists” who are behind conspiracies like the War on Christmas: those are Jews, too.

Henry Ford helped start the idea that the Jews were fighting a “War on Christmas.”

The idea of the War on Christmas started with one of the founding fathers of American anti-Semitism: automaker Henry Ford. Back in the 1920s, he published a newsweekly called the International Jew. It frequently featured blatantly bigoted accusations such as, “Last Christmas, most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated someone’s birth.… People sometimes ask why three million Jews can control the affairs of 100 million Americans. In the same way that 10 Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.”

In modern times, Fox News has been airing segments such as Bill O’Reilly’s 2016 “Naughty or Nice” list, which praised businesses that use “Merry Christmas” and condemned others that say “Happy Holidays.”

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump triumphantly proclaimed that, “People are saying Merry Christmas again.” But when did people stop saying Merry Christmas? The answer is never. Former U.S. president Barack Obama said it, as did all of his predecessors. People in stores say it, greeting cards say it, even Jews have been known to say it when dealing with Christians over the holiday season.

The issue is that, when meeting someone in a casual public setting, it’s not polite to ask if they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist. And even if one does ask, it’s not always easy to remember which holidays are celebrated by which faiths and when. We do know that Boxing Day is for everyone, so we say “Happy Holidays.” If anything, it is a nod to our consumerism, not an act of war on Christmas.

Why is the idea that some people don’t celebrate Christmas offensive to some? If we look at the white supremacist rally Charlottesville, Va., or the perpetrators of the massacres at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, or the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, we can see that they were all motivated by a fear of immigrants and the anti-Semitic “Great Replacement” theory, which claims that there’s a plot to make whites into a minority.

Still, I’m optimistic. Even Trump’s own store uses the more inclusive phrase when urging customers to “Shop Our Curated Holiday Gift Guide,” where one can order a $90 limited edition Boeing Trump airplane ornament. Did his people wave the white flag and admit defeat in the so-called war?

Let’s hope this War on Christmas business has finally come to an end. As a Jewish-Canadian, I love the Christmas season. The lights are beautiful and, when I’m tired of the cold, I can sit back and watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time (it never disappoints) and celebrate the Jewish Christmas tradition of a Chinese dinner, just in time to check out this year’s Boxing Day deals.

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Dan Rosenberg is a radio producer and presenter. His reports can be heard on Cafe International, Afropop Worldwide and ClassicalFM.ca.