Monday, December 20, 2010
In 1968 my family supported the Humphrey-Muskie ticket against Nixon-Agnew. My parents had not yet lost their minds to right-wing nonsense. Back then, Nixon was political evil incarnate. (Today, Dad dismisses Nixon's transgressions—subverting the nation's electoral process—as trivialities compared to Clinton's dalliance with Lewinsky or Obama's health-care reform “death panels.”) Even back then, as far as Dad was concerned, it didn't do to wear one's political heart on one's sleeve. He promptly peeled off the Humphrey-Muskie bumpersticker that I had affixed to the family car. He disapproved of stickers on cars.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when last year Dad applied a “We Say Merry Christmas” sticker to his vehicle. I guess the war on Christmas is an occasion even more fraught with peril than a Nixon presidency. You have to admire the sentiment, too: A Christian refusing to turn the other cheek by hurling “Merry Christmas” in the faces of people who dare to say “Happy Holidays” or “Season's Greetings.” It's time to take it to the enemy!
The pseudo-intellectual talk-show host Dennis Prager was holding forth on his program this morning on the importance of public observation of Christmas in this Christian nation. As a practicing Jew, Prager brings a special éclat to the mistimed celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. It must surely delight Prager's arch-conservative Christian listeners to hear him endorse their positions, even as it must occasionally taint their joy slightly to think that he will surely burn in hell one day.
Intelligent Design creationism whole. He likes arguments based on personal incredulity and he can't imagine life occurring without God to create it and guide its development.
Therefore I was less than impressed when Prager lamented the death of “Merry Christmas” as a holiday greeting. He declared, with great assurance, that pressure from anti-religious pressure groups had brought nonsectarian greetings like “Happy Holidays” into prominence in preference to speaking of our (not his) dear savior's birth. Instead of taking Prager's word for it, I decided to do a little checking. What does Google's Ngram viewer show?
If one searches through Google's textual database for American English publications between 1900 and 2008, we discover that writers in the United States have favored Happy Holidays by a wide margin over Merry Christmas. (Season's Greetings is a sorry also-ran.) Only twice has the primacy of Happy Holidays been threatened: the era of World War II and the period of the Vietnam War. Both lengthy conflicts coincided with an upsurge in the use of Merry Christmas. (One wonders why.) Of course, it may be that spoken greetings were entirely at variance with authorial word choices during the past century, but I think it's rather more reasonable to expect some parallels. Certainly this tends to run contrary to Prager's claim.
I'm sure, however, that Dennis Prager could find something to like in this data—as unused as he is to looking at any—by homing in on the rise in Happy Holidays in recent years. He could put his finger on 2003 and say, “See, this is the war on Christmas taking hold!” (It would be impolite to point out that Merry Christmas also experienced a spike. In fact, in relative terms its growth is even greater. But that would spoil the narrative.)
If Dennis wants a slam-bang finish, I'll point out that at the end of the chart, in 2008, just as Obama was winning the presidency, Happy Holidays reached its highest peak since about 1917, just as Lenin seized control in Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. Coincidence? Impossible!