Post-War on Christmas -- Martin E. Marty

Now that the “War on Christmas” is over—its publicist, Fox News Bill O’Reilly, announced this finding last week—we can survey the post-war terrain

By Martin E. Marty|December 22, 2014

Now that the “War on Christmas” is over—its publicist, Fox News Bill O’Reilly, announced this finding last week—we can survey the post-war terrain. We consider it to be one episode in the ongoing unfolding of what Sightings keeps citing as a “religio-secular” culture. The “secular” pole owes less to a-theists Darwin-Marx-Nietsche-Freud or Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris than to the billions of particulars that go into messy daily life. The “religio-“ side is also messy, a fact that needs no documenting here.

So what do we make of the vestiges of religion in one of those billions, our particular local calendar for the holidays? Donald Liebenson in the (Dec. 18, 2014) Chicago Tribune asked a number of “notable Chicagoans and visiting artists” what they turn to “each year to get into the holiday spirit.” Samples: the president/CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team favors “‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’…a hilarious depiction.” The chief marketing officer of the Walter E. Smithe company: “Unanimously, the Smithe brothers’ favorite is ‘Hardrock, Coco and Joe.’” Move over, Magi.

Actress Lisa Gaye Dixon? “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” etc. Chef Rick Bayless, “The Santaland Diaries.” Actor Scott Jaeck will visit in-laws at a nursing facility on Christmas Day and will screen “that holiday classic, ‘The Godfather.’” A WBBM meteorologist: “We [also] watch ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ every year.”

Julia Sweeney, former “Saturday Night Live” star, watches “‘The Shop Around the Corner’…a humanist film about the power of love.” Jarrett Payton, son of “Number 34” football great Walter Payton who tried to sneak in “‘The Miracle on 34th Street’ because of the ‘34,’” “grew up with ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Home Alone 2.’” Several mentioned the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Finally, Bruce Wolf, a co-host on a WLS-AM show brings in religion as conventionally conceived: “I can say that I love all the Christmas songs written by Jews that don’t mention Jesus, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song,” but continues the religio-secular streak with “Heck, I like the religious ones too.” Wolfe’s was the only response that mentioned Jesus, who is sometimes associated with Christmas.

Christ-mass carols, Hanukah songs, and other celebrations that are anchored in stories of people of faith don’t stand much of a chance, even if they are evocative of vestigial reminiscences of at least marginally religious phenomena. But let’s balance the portrayal I’ve just produced: Our newspapers and other media also advertise, promote, review, and often glory in very specifically faith-based, faith-connected works of art. Calendars in the Chicago papers publicize a score and more of Messiahs and “Masses” and “Ceremony of Carols” performances and broadcasts, which offer those who care about “the stories” behind the above mentioned favorites plenty on which to thrive.

If Chicagoans don’t take advantage of these specifically and articulately religious, in this case, Christian expressions, and they are overlooked, side-lined, displaced, or even derided, it’s not mainly because of some trumped up and politically-motivated “War on Christmas.” Credit, or blame, instead, the changes in habits and the choices made by the celebrating public and their select celebrities.

And please don’t write Sightings off as being a Reilly-like crab. Instead, amid stories of flickering lamps, a stable, a fatigued new mother, bewildered wise men, and an angry monarch—in other words, our real world—we will utter a secular benediction, in a line stolen from the title of one of the most favored seasonal songs in the surveys we quoted:Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.


Liebenson, Donald. “Well known Chicagoans name their holiday family classics.”Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2014, Entertainment.

Image Credit: Anneka / shutterstock.

Sightings' Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud

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Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at