Editorial: The War on Christmas

Lyle Griggs, Copy

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted a puzzling graphic. Above a clip art turkey and a lone Texas star, the graphic bore the phrase “COME AND TAKE IT” in large block letters. When I first saw said inscrutable tweet, I was quite confused. The phrase is common enough — fierce opponents of stricter gun laws often use it — but it seemed out of place above a large trussed bird. Last I checked, no American politician has introduced a plan to confiscate turkeys, nor has anyone proposed a ban on semiautomatic turkeys or assault turkeys. If they wanted, the City of Lawrence could confiscate my beloved turkey, Jonathan Vegas/Mr. Pulsinelli, but that city ordinance is likely not what Senator Cruz’s ominous graphic referred to.

Joking aside, the senator’s niche meme was part of a substantial messaging campaign by American conservatives that blamed COVID-19 restrictions for ruining Thanksgiving. In the weeks leading up to the celebration of gluttony, health professionals and political leaders urged Americans not to travel or gather in groups for Thanksgiving. These recommendations were no campaign of tyranny — people simply hoped to minimize the already-accelerating community spread of the coronavirus. Seeing a political opportunity, anti-lockdown conservatives condemned their political opponents for destroying a cherished tradition — for ruining everything, basically. These mixed partisan messages likely helped ensure that millions of Americans still traveled for the holiday and that many more gathered in groups. Ted Cruz’s weird meme probably helped justify a super-spreader or two.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the last of this sort of thing. And to make matters worse, the coming storm of odd social media content and overwrought attacks will be even worse. For years, a strange “War on Christmas” narrative has dominated coverage by a certain TV news station in December. Before this year, this narrative has focused on minor choices made to make the season more inclusive. Every time a television ad or corporate marketing campaign uses the phrase “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” for example, that certain television program goes absolutely nuts. For nearly the entire month, hosts paint “the Left” as a gang of grinches hoping to brutally murder the Christmas spirit. This year, when health guidelines and travel restrictions will actually affect how people celebrate Christmas, I assume that the old narrative will return, stronger than ever.

The “War on Christmas” narrative — just like Ted Cruz’s odd turkey meme — has always been silly, but this time it will have serious consequences. As with wildly different opinions on masks that perplexed us earlier this year, disparate messaging on holiday gatherings will confuse, divide, and imperil Americans. We should all come together to keep our communities safe, even if that means kicking extended family off the Christmas guest list. And news outlets and politicians should help encourage safe practices; a unified message could go a long way towards preventing holiday community spread. Unfortunately, no Chronicle-to-major-news-outlet pipeline exists, and the “War on Christmas” narrative will rage on in the imaginations of conservative pundits.

One last thing: losing a traditional family Christmas is no catastrophe. I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge; I love Christmas and look forward to every holiday season. Still, I can take a bit of necessary, temporary change. To those who plan to resist guidelines or protest travel restrictions, I say this: you aren’t children anymore. There are bigger things to worry about than grandma’s apple pie. Grow up.

So when Ted Cruz again screams “COME AND TAKE IT” on social media, using a tree or stocking this time for his strange meme, I’ll be chilling at home with my feet up, drinking eggnog by a fire, staying far from maskless crowds and certainly not fighting in the trenches of the War on Christmas.