I didn’t give anyone a single Christmas gift this year.
I didn’t display a Christmas tree in my home. However, I did attend a church service on Christmas Eve. If you are worried about a “War on Christmas,” then you should follow my lead.
Last November, Donald J. Trump promised his campaign rally audience that “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again, that I can tell you.” His statement was a reference to the notion that there was a “War on Christmas” (popularized by Fox News) in which people are supposedly afraid to say the words “Merry Christmas” due to totalitarian political correctness. Trump also suggested that perhaps Starbucks should be boycotted because the popular coffee chain had replaced Christmas symbols (reindeer and ornaments) on its seasonal cup with a symbol-free, red-colored one.
Earlier this month, Trump declared that the war had been won, saying “We’re gonna start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” and fantasized that department stores will start displaying “Merry Christmas” signs. Christmas tree ornaments and reindeer returned to this year’s Starbucks cups released the day after the election (a nativity scene has never appeared on a Starbucks Christmas cup).
Last week, I asked my auto mechanic (a Trump supporter) whether he was looking forward to finally being able to say “Merry Christmas” again as a result of Trump’s election. He got the joke: people have always been free to say “Merry Christmas” notwithstanding Trump’s exploitation of the myth. There was never a politically-correct “War on Christmas” in the sense imagined by many conservative Christians. Instead, the real war was lost decades ago.
Step back for a moment and face the reality: is Christmas really a religious holiday if everyone—devout Christian and atheist alike—celebrates the holiday? If Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, why do people give each other gifts? What connection do Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees, bells, and tinsel have to the birth of Christ?
Although I had been a big fan of Christmas growing up, reality eventually crept into my consciousness after I experienced the “deadweight loss” of Christmas gift exchanges for several years as an adult. According to the deadweight loss gift-giving economic theory, people receive less satisfaction from a gift they receive than if they had spent the money used to purchase that gift on something they chose. Worse, I sometimes received gifts that I never would have purchased at any price (my sole consolation was that I received tax deductions for my Goodwill donations).
Gift giving and parties dominate Christmas and have all but eliminated its religious connotations. Outside church services, Christmas is a secular holiday with a religious history. Therefore, the only people who care about whether the employee at the department store says “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” are those who wish to revive a religious aspect that began evaporating in 1843 with the release of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (an influential novella that glorified parties and downplayed Jesus).
Anyone upset about a “War on Christmas” is fighting a losing battle. Truly “putting Christ back into Christmas” would require an unprecedented religious revival in a country that has been trending secular for many years.
There are two ways the Christian aspects of Christmas can be saved: either the date of observance, December 25, or the date of the festivities would have to change (preferably to a date far away from December). If Christmas (or whatever it would be called) gift giving and parties are moved to June, Christians can quietly observe the holiday in December. The same would hold true if Christmas observance was moved to June or some other month, and December festivities continued as usual.
Trump’s election will not magically transform Christmas into a religious holiday. However, there is one thing a religious observer of Christmas can do: stop giving and receiving gifts. Take the money that you would have spent on Christmas presents and buy whatever you want for yourself. In so doing, you will eliminate your personal deadweight loss and clarify for others the true nature of the holiday. Merry Christmas.
Currently the principal of Everest Law Firm in Alexandria, Virginia, Kris Hammond has served as an attorney for a district court judge, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice in its Civil Rights Division. He has run for office twice and was an elected delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.