On Saturday, President Donald Trump’s son and daughter-in-law claimed victory in the ostensible battle for the soul of the holiday season, dealing a crushing blow to the grinches Fox News believes are vowing to stop “Christmas.”
“It is nice to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Eric Trump told Fox host Jeanine Pirro.
The phrase “war on Christmas" sprang into the mainstream in 2005, when then-Fox host Bill O’Reilly interviewed John Gibson, a former Fox host, about Gibson’s book of the same name. (According to a 2016 New York Times story, a Fairleigh Dickinson University study found that watching Fox News “increased the likelihood that someone would believe in the War on Christmas by 5 to 10%.”)
In 2016, after he won election, Donald Trump noted that the country could say Merry Christmas “again” after eight years of Barack Obama in the White House. Perhaps Trump was referring to the hit 1963 tune “Happy Holiday” by Andy Williams instead, because a 2017 YouTube video titled “Obama saying ‘Merry Christmas’” compiles more than a dozen clips of Obama saying the phrase.
If some still insist on waging the war despite the Trump family’s proclamations of victory, one of its biggest battlefields is in church. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, just 51% of Americans plan to attend religious services on Christmas.
The security-research site SafeHome.org, using Pew data, released a report this weekend that found that 26.5% of Pennsylvanians either don’t identify as Christian or don’t observe Dec. 25 as a religious holiday. In Vermont, that number was 43.5% — the highest of any state. Alabama is where Christmas defenders would want to be, with the lowest percentage of non-Christians (just 14%).
Further Pew research, however, also has indicated that “Christianity is in rapid decline” nationwide, down about 12% over the last decade.
Still, data suggest Christmas is winning on most other fronts.
The website Snopes, which investigates Internet memes and shoddily sourced stories your uncle shares on Facebook, laid out the data in a recent post: 9 in 10 Americans say they celebrate Christmas, according to Pew. It also cited evidence that Christmas tree sales have increased, and that December sales at malls and online remain strong. The National Retail Federation found that the typical consumer plans to spend a total of $1,048 on decorations, candy and gifts this year, a number that has risen steadily since 2009.
A Google News search for “war on Christmas” brings up accusations, but no proof of its existence — unless you think “Happy Holidays” are fighting words. Other stories say the war isn’t real or ask for a ceasefire. Some opinion writers lament that the Constitution separates church and state.
In an op-ed written for newspapers in Maine, history professor Abraham Peck summed up the war this way:
“There is no ‘War on Christmas,’ and one can wish a Christian ‘Merry Christmas’ knowing that the season of universal joy, peace, and good will is a wish shared by all in our multicultural and multi-religious nation,” Peck wrote. “For many people of minority religions, all they want for Christmas is an acknowledgement that they, too, matter.”