Republicans resurrect 'War on Christmas' rhetoric for the COVID era

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Even though Dr. Anthony Fauci encouraged Americans to enjoy a normal holiday with their families, conservatives claim he is trying to 'cancel Christmas.'

With more than two months to go until Dec. 25, Republicans are already trotting out their yearly complaints about the "War on Christmas," the disproven idea that throngs of people are skulking about, looking for any opportunity — whether it's targeting holiday card greetings, school choirs, or supermarket displays — to snuff out public celebrations of the holiday.

All month, conservatives have seized on holiday guidance provided by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci told "Face the Nation" on Oct. 3 that it was "just too soon to tell" whether people could gather for Christmas this December.

The next day, Fauci clarified his comments, telling CNN that he would be spending Christmas with his family: "I encourage people, particularly the vaccinated people who are protected, to have a good, normal Christmas with your family."

Criticism poured in from the right nonetheless, with the National Republican Congressional Committee warning its base: "Alert: Fauci's canceling Christmas! We will lose the war on Christmas to the liberal snowflakes unless you sign our petition to Fire Fauci ASAP."

On Oct. 17 Fauci told ABC News: "If you're vaccinated and your family members are vaccinated ... you can enjoy the holidays. You can enjoy Halloween, trick-or-treating, and certainly Thanksgiving with your family and Christmas with your families. That's one of the reasons why we emphasize why it's so important to get vaccinated".

But conservatives still raised the alarm, accusing the nation's top expert on infectious diseases of being a "grinch" who is "trying to CANCEL Christmas."

"We don't need Fauci's permission to celebrate the holidays with family," Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) tweeted. "People are smart. They know how to make decisions that best protect their loved ones. It's insane that the government thinks it can tell people how to live."

In the last two years, the "War on Christmas" claim has been linked with the coronavirus pandemic as Republican lawmakers and conservative media commentators have pointed to public health measures as proof of the threat against Christmas both in the public square and in people's private lives.

In that way, the pandemic has granted conservatives a new way to agitate their base by pulling out a common refrain and reenergizing it in a new context, according to Richard K. Olsen, chair of the communication studies department at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

"We have seen some evolution in the rhetoric around it last year and this year," Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, told the American Independent Foundation, explaining that conservatives are moving toward a claim that "the government writ large is trying to cancel Christmas."

The new thinking, according to Cassino, is that it's "bad enough they already got rid of it in the public squares, they got rid of it in the schools, now they're getting rid of it in your home."

The accusations of "war" have undergone a few revisions over the years. In 1921, automobile tycoon Henry Ford wrote about "the Jews' interference with the religion of the others, and the Jews' determination to wipe out of public life every sign of the predominant Christian character of the United States."

He wrote in another pamphlet the same year, "People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.

According to a report from Media Matters, Fox News began its annual holiday season fearmongering in 2004 with a series of segments highlighting a number of hyperbolized examples of Christmas' demotion in the public sphere, including a Wisconsin elementary school secularizing the lyrics to "Silent Night" or the fact that the Gap did not explicitly use the word "Christmas" in holiday season ads.

In reality, the song lyrics were adapted for a Christmas play about a lonely tree, and the Gap often referenced Christmas in advertisements.

"There are events that happen, but they get perverted, they get retold, they get exaggerated, they get lied about in order to create this impression that the 'War on Christmas' is much more severe than it actually is, when in fact it actually doesn't exist at all," David Kyle Johnson, the author of "The Myths That Stole Christmas," told the American Independent Foundation.

"The last thing that Christmas is is in any kind of danger," he added. "It is a cultural juggernaut, it has the force of a thousand atomic bombs on society. And to think that there is this war being waged on it — and even the idea that if there was such a war, that the other side could be at all successful in doing what they’re trying to accomplish … is absurd."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.