The disappointment first set in when I read that James Lileks couldn't find his way to the front this year:
The War on Christmas seems a little less intense this season.
This seemed a little odd coming from the guy who last year was so outraged that he couldn't find the Christmas stamps at the Post Office website, seeing as how this year they've announced they're only selling off the old models and that all future Christian-themed philatelic offerings will come pre-packaged in a baggie full of urine. Plus you'd imagine that Mr. Fivehead might have noticed that his fellow warriors were storming the gates of the beloved Target, now wouldn't ya?
So I took on another recon mission. I wanted to see what was up with media coverage of the Great December Sitzkreig.
ABC News had an "Original Report" Sunday, which suggests that they need to check the definition of "original". It began:
Dec. 11, 2005 --Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!
They may sound like simple salutations, but they have become opposing battle cries in a wintry culture war — with conservative Christian groups going up against retailers, municipalities and even the White House.
Now, it seems to me that if this is your lead you might want to rethink the whole story assignment--do you really expect to get some juicy anti-Christmas sound bites from retailers and muncipalities, let alone the White House? Maybe "Kooks Shoveling Shit Instead of Snow This Christmas" would have been a better headline.
But there were a couple logs of cheery holiday warmth aglow in the story. First, Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe "Tent City" Arpaio has joined the fray, piping Christmas carols at his jail house charges, many of whom will thus be freed again to prey on Maricopa residents as soon as the "cruel and unusual punishment" motions are heard. Second, we have this from Wild Bill Donohue of the League of Catholic Blowhards:
"Elvis didn't sing about 'Blue Holiday.' Nobody says 'I'll be home for the holiday.' It's, 'I'll be home for Christmas.' If you can't say Christmas at Christmas time, when 85 percent of the population is Christian and 96 percent of the population celebrates Christmas, something's wrong."
'Course The Pelvis wasn't exactly a big hit with the Church back in his day, but you gotta keep up with the times, so why not plan an Elvis Christmas this year? Take a handful of Placidils, pay some teenaged girls to wrestle in green and red panties, and shoot out the teevee screen while the Yule log loop is playing. I know I'm going to.
Still, any good recon goes where the evidence goes. I've spent enough time at Religious Tolerance.org to know that that "85% of the population is Christian" is fifteen years out of date (it's been dropping ever since--Go Wiccans!--and is now around 75%, a number which is itself pretty damned suspect since half those people never set foot in a church and since in 2002 only 50% of Americans were willing to tell a pollster they considered themselves religious). But where'd that 96% celebration rate come from? Lileks used it, also without attribution. So does the Alliance Defense Fund. So did Lionel Shriver in a cringe-inducing piece in the Guardian, and The Arizona Republic, (which noted, straight-faced, that "Even Sheriff Joe Arpaio joined the fray," as though this constituted the pushing of a sane and cautious man over a line), and the folks pushing the "School Okays Christmas Witch, Rewrites Silent Night" tale. Where'd that number come from?
Never underestimate the dedication of the recon squad. Or the power of Google, where the #2 result for "96% Americans celebrate Christmas" gives us:
96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 2003).
Kee-rist. You think you've finally found a Good War, after all these years, and it turns out you're just peeping at a circle jerk.