Every year, accompanying the lit-up streets and sparkling windows, there is one debate that reignites without fail: what conservative news oulet Fox News exaggeratedly defines as the “War on Christmas”. Yes, because the so-called “War on Christmas” is obviously not a real war, but a media framing device invented most notably by Bill O’Reilly. Once the head of Fox’s cadre of talking-heads, O’Reilly recently fell from grace and was terminated without notice due to a series of embarrassing incidents and documented allegations of sexual harassment towards his female colleagues and employees. With “Naughty Bill” no longer around to mock and denigrate department stores and chain stores every evening from the television screen for not having Merry Christmas-themed wrapping paper and ready-made packages (instead opting for a more non-denominational “Happy Holidays”), the new White House resident has taken care to rekindle the controversy.
Trump hoped in this respect to finally fulfill at least one of his many campaign promises: to bring back “Merry Christmas” to the presidential abode. One of his poets claimed in a tweet that Donald and Melania had finally brought back “Christmas” to the White House’s annual Merry Christmas card. In response, the nation’s relentless army of ‘fact checkers’ have shown that Obama used the expression “Merry Christmas” in all the years of his presidency, many times either by himself or with his wife, Michelle, through a variety of different media: from radio broadcasts, to tweets, to television appearances, to the traditional lighting of the White House (precisely) Christmas tree.
These controversies may not seem that much different to Italian readers from those which in recent years have permeated the Italian news scene, especially in public schools: the nativity scene—yes or no? And the tree? Is it neutral enough, or too Christian? How about the Christmas carol, the ones that don’t mention baby Jesus, but only snow, sleighs, and bells—can non-Christian schoolchildren also learn them? Usually, cases incited by small-time politicians looking for a moment in the spotlight – in which they exploit their daughter’s Christmas class recital, purged, according to them, of more explicit references to the Christian holidays – reach the papers. All characters, it should be noted, wouldn’t pass a third grade Catechism exam and even as they would deign to brandish the crucifix like a sword against the infidel invaders. The good news is that in thousands of schools and in tens of thousands of Italian classrooms, these controversies don’t exist. We can thank to sensitivity and common sense of teachers that every day manage a student body in constant transformation, both ethnically and religiously.
But let’s return to America. Despite “Naughty Bill’s” firing and Trump’s umpteenth fabrication, someone else will probably pick up the mantle and rant about the War on Christmas. However, one video that went viral on the Internet may be the one that delivers the final blow to this grotesque story. Father Kevin O’Brien, a well-respected Jesuit priest and Head of the Theology Department at the University of Santa Clara in California, in fact stated, “I don’t think that Jesus cares much if we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. He wasn’t interested in promoting himself.”
The Jesuit continues, citing the Gospel and Pope Francis, maintaining that it’s the Christian thing to do to promote a culture of dialogue and not conflict, and that that means listening and respecting people of faiths different from ours; listen to them, not to be nice, but to learn from them. I, thanks to Father Kevin, have a little hope for this Christmas: that this open and likeable priest, and his truly Christian message, triumph over those who wish once again to hypocritically exploit the birth of Christ to incite hate. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (whichever they may be) to all!
Translation by Emmelina De Feo