So what's going on here? Well, it looks like the "war on Christmas" is a quite deliberate ploy by a loud minority of religious traditionalists trying to claim more cultural clout than today's largely secular society entitles them to.
"There's something very complicated going on here," says Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. "It has to do with the contest between Christianity and Islam: Christians are becoming very alarmed about the progress they see Islam making in this country, and they fear their own festivals will be overwhelmed. I was doing a phone-in the other day, and everybody who rang in was saying, 'They're banning Christmas!' So I said: 'Who? Where? Who's standing outside a church saying you can't go in? Who's coming and knocking on your door at 6am and asking if there's a nativity set in your house?' It's quite dangerous, I think, to incite this kind of resentment against a perceived enemy."
This year, though, the defenders of Christmas aren't only invoking the fear that nebulous Muslim forces might be about to obliterate Britain's traditional religion. Simultaneously, they have also aligned themselves with Muslim groups, arguing that the real enemy is secularisation. It's a position well-crafted for the historical moment, and for the currently fashionable notion of Britain as comprised of groups defined above all by their faith (even though barely 10% of us regularly attend any kind of religious service).Unsurprisingly, the War-On-Christmas panic is not indigenously British, but, like many forms of religious chest-beating, imported from the Colonies, in this case, America and its culture war:
Then, last year, the War on Christmas received a massive boost when it exploded on to the American political landscape, thanks primarily to two Fox News anchormen, John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. Gibson had a vested interest, having just published a book entitled The War On Christmas: How The Liberal Plot To Ban The Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. (A note in the interests of full disclosure: O'Reilly, as I enjoy telling people whenever possible, accused me of "spout[ing] incredible nonsense" earlier this year after I wrote a story about a speech in which he invited al-Qaida to attack the liberal stronghold of San Francisco; previously, he had speculated that the Guardian "might be edited by Osama bin Laden".)(Btw, has the atheists-are-taking-away-Christmas thing spread to Australia yet? I imagine when it does, the federal government will swing into action, using its expanded powers to come down like a tonne of bricks on any officials daring to take the Christ out of
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