America’s longest war has just come home. Last week, Fox News’s All-American Christmas Tree, standing merrily outside the channel’s headquarters in New York, was set on fire and destroyed. The arsonist was quickly arrested upon which he was subjected to the fearsome rigor of our justice system: released without bail as he cussed out reporters.
We should pause here to note just how banal and predictable much of the late-night jesting about the blaze has been. It isn’t that the likes of Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert shouldn’t joke about the fire — crack all you like, and the Daily Show‘s “Pine Eleven” was pretty funny. It’s just that, had the target not been a Fox News Christmas tree, had it instead been, say, an MSNBC trans-solstice BIPOC sculpture garden, everyone knows our comedians wouldn’t see the humor, only a hate crime. Yet Christians and conservatives don’t fall under the shield of political correctness, and so the freethinkers yuk away.
The torching of the tree was an unconscionable act, and thankfully Fox has already lit up a new one (how fair and balanced are thy branches). But the fire also calls to mind a certain trope from the channel’s golden days of yore. Rewind Fox News to the early 2000s and you’d find its personalities railing against what they called the “War on Christmas,” a campaign by the left to erase the holiday from American life. They weren’t without a point: back then, groups like the ACLU were suing towns and cities, demanding they remove nativity scenes from public property in the name of keeping church and state separate.
Enter Bill O’Reilly, the Pericles of the War on Christmas, who waved the towel against the manger-snatchers. And it wasn’t just the godless legal eagles O’Reilly was after. He had a problem with anyone who insisted on wishing “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” Any business caught using the wrong greeting — save for the fine people at News Corp., of course — was battered mercilessly on his show.
So it was that the War on Christmas was on and the sugar plum mortars flew. (Picture snowmen sitting terrified in an amphibious landing vehicle while an elf shouts “ten seconds!”) Yet as with other similarly intra-national conflicts, this one proved a far more daunting challenge than its belligerents had expected. Despite Fox’s best efforts, secularism was on the march. Clashes were desultory and ugly; combatants behaved less like good toy soldiers than lawless militants hurling balls and waving whips that crack.
Then, abruptly, victory was declared. Donald Trump was elected, and the War on Christmas was instantly won. “We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump declared in 2017. And so we were. Four years later, he pronounced, “Remember when I first ran, I said, ‘you’re gonna say Merry Christmas’ — they’re all saying Merry Christmas again.” Even O’Reilly, that grizzled old warrior, declared that the War on Christmas had at last found its V-Day.
Now, the torching of the Fox News tree forces us to ask whether hostilities have resumed anew. It also forces us to ask just how literal this war has become. It’s a hallmark of our cosmically unclever age that a martial Christmas metaphor should end with a tree actually being napalmed. Yet it’s also worth pointing out that the accused arsonist doesn’t appear to have had a political motive. Homeless and ranting incoherently, he seems more mentally ill than secular progressive (take the easy swing there, conservatives).
Because the fact of the matter is that Trump and O’Reilly were right in a sense. The War on Christmas, assuming it ever was a war at all, has cooled. American institutions are under siege, yes, by Critical Race Theory in public schools, by gender-warping twaddle in sports. Yet Christmas is doing OK. Here in deep blue America, cashiers regularly use the C-word. “Away in a Manger” plays at the local Target, even as more modern and melismatic singers insist on butchering it (“the caaaaAAAAAAaaattle are LOoOoOoWinggggg…). Rudolph and Frosty are on TV. The ACLU still files its lawsuits but is regularly laughed out of court.
Christmas, perhaps because it has both religious and secular purchase, perhaps because its spirit of charity and midwinter anticipation is so transcendent, has endured better than many of our traditions. Yet that doesn’t mean there aren’t fresh threats materializing out of the midnight clear. Pine Eleven appears to have been less a statement of paganism than another manifestation of the insensate crime wave plaguing our cities. An epidemic of lawlessness, a Covid regime that won’t quit, inflation juiced by federal overspending — these are the challenges we now face.
As for the War on Christmas, the culture warriors can stand down. Christmas comes with many greetings, and “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” should always be one of them. May this season bring with it a still and calming respite from our strife.
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