Henry Ford, the famed industrialist and notorious anti-Semite, once pontificated that Jews were ruining Christmas.
"The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas ... shows the venom and directness of [their] attack," Ford carped in an early 1920s work he titled The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem.
The automaker went on to detail various localized Jewish "attacks" against the popular holiday.
"Christmas celebrations or carols in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Paul and New York met with strong Jewish opposition," he claimed. "Local Council of Jewish Women of Baltimore petitions school board to prohibit Christmas exercises" and "[a]t request of a rabbi, three principals of Roxbury, Mass., public schools agree[d] to banish Christmas tree and omit all references to the season from their schools."
So effective were these alleged Jewish actions against Christmas, Ford declared, that in one year "most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth."
It is striking how much Ford's claims of Jewish efforts to undermine the celebration of Christmas nearly a century ago mirror modern Religious Right claims of a "war on Christmas." While present-day fundamentalist zealots tend to blame atheists for what they believe is the gradual erosion of the religious aspects of Christmas, research shows that this "war" is not something that was cooked up by the Fox News Channel--though that is where the battles in this supposed conflict tend to play out today.
While it is not known exactly who fired the first shot in the war--or when --it is clear that far-right Christians have long used this phony conflict as an opportunity to demonize their enemies and force their religious beliefs on others.
When the Religious Right rants about the "war on Christmas" it is expressing fear that the holiday is becoming secularized, and no other single entity feeds far-right fantasies about this supposed "war" more than the Fox News Channel.
An early Fox salvo occurred on Dec. 7, 2004, with a segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" called "Christmas Under Siege." In a rant that will certainly live in infamy, host Bill O'Reilly said Christmas was threatened on multiple fronts.
"All over the country, Christmas is taking flak," O'Reilly opined. "In Denver this past weekend, no religious floats were permitted in the holiday parade there. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the 'holiday tree,' and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in the public schools. Federated Department Stores--that's Macy's--have done away with the Christmas greeting 'Merry Christmas.'"
From that moment, O'Reilly positioned himself as something of a general in the fight to save Christmas from the evils of a pluralistic
society. Year after year, O'Reilly made similar claims about the threats to Christian belief posed by the supposed "war." Naturally, some of these scare stories fired up the Fox crowd--to the point of inspiring piles of angry mail and sometimes even vandalism.
In 2008, O'Reilly went on a tirade over a private display put up at the Washington State Capitol asking that "reason prevail" during the "season of the Winter Solstice." After O'Reilly's segment aired, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire's office said it received up to 200 vicious phone calls per hour. The sign was even stolen at one point and later found in a ditch. In 2012, O'Reilly attacked then-Gov. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island because he had the audacity to refer to the official tree at the statehouse as a "holiday tree."
"Mr. Chafee wants to ignore traditions of America and build a more inconclusive nation where Judeo-Christian philosophy is tamped down," O'Reilly huffed. "That's the big picture here. That's the big picture, it's what it's all about. The secular progressives want a new America, and traditional Christmas isn't a part of it."
When New York Times columnist Gail Collins dared write in 2013 that the so-called war is "imaginary," O'Reilly fired back that Collins is in "denial."
After 10 years of fighting against so-called "secular progressives," O'Reilly decided he had won the war--even though News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, referred to November/December as the "holiday season" in its August 2014 annual report.
"I won the 'War on Christmas," O'Reilly boasted on NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers" last December. "I've been doing this for about 10 years, and this is the only year we have not had a store that commanded its employees not to say 'Merry Christmas.' It's over. We won."
The Religious Right, however, clearly does not agree with O'Reilly that the war is over. Perhaps the most maddening development in recent years as far as fundamentalist zealots are concerned is the growing tendency of retailers to eschew "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays." In response to this supposed sleight by...