There is no easier way for politicians or pundits to rally the base this time of year than hyping the “War on Christmas” by liberal elites. Donald Trump’s son Eric told evangelist James Robison in an August interview that one reason Trump decided to run for president was because the White House “Christmas tree” was now called the “holiday tree.” (Multiple outlets noted that no such change had occurred.)
Hostility toward Christmas, Santa Claus, and the Christmas tree has a long history, as does disgust with the holiday’s appropriation by politicians, marketers, and lobbyists. Gerry Bowler’s often hilarious, sometimes tedious Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday (Oxford University Press) chronicles a mind-boggling array of conflicts stretching from the ancient world to today. Ever ready with wry zingers for Christmas’s legions of opponents or another quote illustrating the quixotic zeal of its appropriators, at times Bowler gives the impression of someone who loves his subject a little too much.
Bowler begins with the fascinating history of how the early church chose December 25 as the day to observe Christmas. The Bible gives little guidance, and Bowler is not convinced by the common argument that the church just decided to Christianize a pagan holiday. Instead, he attributes the date to obscure assumptions the early church made about the timing of Jesus’s conception, and the belief that great people sometimes died on the same date they were conceived (around mid-March, in Jesus’s case). Still, Christmas’s proximity to older pagan festivals would plague its reputation ...1