NEWSFLASH: The Ranter has declared war on Christmas! Or at least Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson and the other genius right-wingers at Faux News believe that liberal, left, secularists like The Ranter have declared war on Christmas. I hate to disappoint, so I have created a “Make war on Christmas, not Iraq” bumper sticker. Joining me in this anti-crusade is John Calvin, the famous Reformer of Geneva, father of the Puritan movement and one of the original soldiers in the war on Christmas.
Many commentators have written to note that Christmas is alive and well (or ill from a case of acute commercialism, actually, but most Christians and atheists agree with that assessment as well unless they happen to be retailers). There is this little document generally known as the Bill of Rights that says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The United States is built on principles that protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. For some reason, these right-wing Christians seem to be unable to project into the future and ask whether they would be comfortable in a twenty-third century America that has converted overwhelmingly to Mithraism (The Ranter predicted if first) and mandates installation of Mithraic grottos and bull slayings on the lawns of the city halls and in the halls of the courthouses of America. The separation of Church and State is not a war against Christians, it is primarily intended for the protection of people of all religions, including Christians.
All of that is neither here nor there and it has been said a million times. More surprising to many Christians and atheists alike is that the great-grandfather of religious fundamentalism, John Calvin, was himself a soldier in the war against Christmas. Like most educated Christians, Calvin knew that the birth of Jesus did not correspond in any meaningful way to December 25th, and that it was in essence a pagan holiday that had been absorbed and coopted by early Christians. Calvin, however, went the next step in believing that only holidays specifically mentioned in the Bible should be celebrated. Essentially, this boiled down to holidays of the Easter cycle (Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, et cetera) as well as Sundays.
The war on Christmas was joined in 1537, when, under the influence of John Calvin, Christmas passed without celebration. Unfortunately, Geneva’s allies, the Bernese insisted on celebrating Christmas, Circumcision, Annunciation and a few other holidays and demanded the Genevans do the same. Calvin, refusing to give into Bernese demands, was exiled from Geneva and the celebration of Christmas reinstated. When Calvin came back to Geneva in 1541 after a period of exile, he began militating for the abolition of the non-Biblical holidays. In 1545, he achieved limited success in seeing the feasts of the Circumcision and Annunciation suppressed, but the war on Christmas was a tougher fight. Finally, in 1550, Calvin managed to get the Genevan authorities to outlaw Christmas and to mandate that communion would be celebrated only on Sundays, and not on “superstitious” pagan dates like December 25. Indeed, on Devember 25, 1550, the city council sat for business as usual, the courts were in session and businesses were all open under penalty of fine. Calvin, as usual, gave his weekday sermon on a book of the Old Testament and noticed something that upset him: there were more people in church than on a typical weekday. A committed soldier in the war on Christmas, Calvin boomed from the pulpit:
I see more people than usual at sermon today. And why? It’ s Christmas day. And who told you? It seems so [to be a holy day] to poor beasts. There’ s the fitting label for all who came to sermon today in honor of the feast… But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are beasts, indeed, rabid beasts.
Once again, I am compelled to agree with Calvin and declare that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and John Gibson are, indeed, rabid beasts. As such, I join Calvin in the war on Christmas. Amen!
- War on Christmas (20th century version)
- What War on Christmas? by Ruth Marcus, Washington Post, December 10, 2005, p. A 21.
- O’Reilly: “War” on Christmas part of “secular progressive agenda”, interview with O’Reilly and Gibson.
- How the secular humanist grinch didn’t steal Christmas, by Michelle Goldberg, Salon.com, November 21, 2005.
- War on Christmas (Calvinist version)
- The quote is from Supplementa Calviniana, volume 5, sermons on Micah, p. 172, lines 20ff, translated from French by The Ranter.
- On the general context, Preaching, Praying and Policing the Reform in Sixtheenth-Century Geneva, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation by Thomas A. Lambert, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1998.