John Seven: Christmas is not under siege — it's just diverse


NORTH ADAMS — The idea of a "War on Christmas" makes no sense to me.

It implies that there's only one kind of Christmas, but there've always been many ways to celebrate, many reasons to celebrate, and these are ingrained into many of the historical traditions of Christmas.

A Catholic Christmas is different from a Methodist Christmas. A southern Christmas is different from a New England Christmas. An Italian Christmas is different from a Polish Christmas. And on and on, from region to region, family to family.

No one gets to decide what Christmas is for someone else anymore than they get to dictate what the 4th of July is for anyone. I'm an American, I can celebrate Independence Day anyway I wish. I believe that is part of the point of being an American. The same goes with Christmas.

What those who are overly concerned about a "War on Christmas" can't accept is that Christmas is now a holiday embraced by nonreligious people of all backgrounds and cultures.

In the clearest possible terms, welcome, Christians, to the world of cultural appropriation. It's something that happens a lot to other people, especially with holidays. Christmas is not strictly a Christian holiday anymore, just like St. Patrick's Day isn't strictly an Irish holiday and Cinco De Mayo isn't strictly a Mexican holiday and Halloween isn't strictly a Pagan holiday.

Jews haven't encountered appropriation with their holidays, but they sure have with other aspects of their culture. I can still remember a time when bagels were really only available in Jewish bakeries, and not every place that served breakfast.

But some would claim Christians appropriated Christmas in the first place, back when Pope Julius I decided to name the Feast of the Nativity on the same days as Mithra's birthday, a sacred holiday for Romans.

It was a sleight of hand to divert the festivities. That feast evolved into Christmas, but it wasn't unanimously embraced by all Christians, especially conservative Protestants. For instance, in the mid-17th century, Puritans outlawed Christmas in Massachusetts, since it had become a rowdy holiday more akin to our current New Year's Eve.

Christmas wasn't a federal holiday here until 1870. And it wasn't until the 19th Century when Washington Irving helped transform it into the child-centric, gifting holiday that we recognize.

And all along, the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches have never celebrated Christmas on the date of Mithra's birthday.

So the 21st Century comes around people complain about a war on Christmas? Please. Which Christmas?

It must shock some Christians that their culture can be appropriated, having long been considered the cultural norm of our country. How can you appropriate the norm? It can be a slow siphon where the parts of the norm change.

For years, people who considered themselves Christian without going to church celebrated the holiday, probably putting less emphasis on the religious aspect. Now we're a couple generations into that and the Jesus part has completely disappeared for a number of people. Christmas has become the holiday of good will, or the holiday of consumerism or the holiday of winter, or something I haven't thought of.

What you need to understand is that if it's the holiday of Jesus for you, no one but yourself has the power to change that within your personal observance — not Starbucks, not the lady at the grocery store telling you "Happy Holidays," no one. Just you.

One rare consistency is that through the ages Christmas has been the holiday of "good will toward men." One way to show good will is to not turn something into a crusade. Back off. Show some respect. And celebrate the holiday season however you want. I assure you, no one is trying to stop you.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at or at


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