It’s that time of year again. The apocryphal “War on Christmas” has begun.
In 2016, I was an Associate Creative Director at a local marketing agency. We had a pitch set up for one of our clients — a national broadband services provider for businesses. The meeting was in our offices on 17th St. downtown, just a few days before the holiday break in December.
As the ACD, I was leading the creative portion of the pitch. If you ever watched Mad Men, it wasn’t too different from what we watched Don Draper do so many times (although I’m nowhere near as well-dressed or good looking). The account director from my agency, Pete* was in that meeting, as well as Jason, the marketing manager who worked for that client, and Doug, the client’s sales VP who had flown in from Texas for this pitch.
We knew Jason well since we had already worked with him on other projects, but this was our first meeting with Doug, for whom we created this pitch. Jason is a Jew, like me. Doug is not. We sat down in the conference room, making small talk for a minute before kicking into the pitch.
“Happy Holidays!” Doug cheerfully opened with, before catching himself and changing the sentiment. “Wait, Trump just won! I can say ‘Merry Christmas’ now!” I glanced over at Jason, whose smile was frozen in place. Then I made eye contact with our account director Pete and noticed the panic in his eyes as he realized I wasn’t gonna let it slide.
“Well now, Doug,” I said flashing him a toothy smile, “both Jason here and I are Jews. Ya know, If you’d have just opened with ‘Merry Christmas,’ I’m reasonably sure we would have simply returned the greeting. But that was a pretty bold choice to discard the actual meaning of the salutation you offered in favor of making a political statement trying to alienate us, don’t ya think?”
My account director turned a few shades paler (not gonna lie, I got a little enjoyment out of that as well). Jason’s smile remained frozen. Doug turned beet red. He stammered a half-hearted apology buried in an “oh-I-was-just-joking” excuse, and spent the rest of the pitch looking for ways to try and win me back over. I didn’t belabor it. My point had been made.
At the end of the meeting as we shook hands, Doug said, “no hard feelings, I hope.” I smiled at him and said, “none at all. I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas.” Doug and Jason left the office and Pete looked at me.
“You just had to say something,” he said.
“Damned straight,” I replied. He sighed and walked out of the conference room.
We landed the project. And we should have, because the idea was solid, and the campaign we put together was ultimately a success. Doug was stoked. All’s well that ends well.
Or is it?
The truth is, the Evangelical Right places a lot of stock in the idea that there’s somehow a war on their favorite holiday in a nation where Christianity is the religion of choice for more than 70% of its populace. It’s become an annual rallying cry for their ranks as they attack brands for daring to remove religious iconography from their holiday-themed branding in an attempt to be more inclusive across their customer base.
Remember when Starbucks rolled out their holiday-themed cups in 2015, dropping a metaphorical nuclear bomb into the lap of evangelicals? The fallout created a wave of hysteria former POTUS Trump rode like an expert surfer in his campaign rhetoric.
“Did you read about Starbucks? No more Merry Christmas on Starbucks,” Trump said at a 2015 rally. “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”
Fox News, never one to waste a good culture fracas, seized the opportunity to chastise Starbucks for taking Christ off of their cups. (Nevermind that Christ has never made an appearance on any Starbucks cup ever. But Fox also never lets truth get in the way of their propaganda either.)
The so-called “war on Christmas” started long before the Trump era, but it really caught fire then, because where other Presidential candidates saw mindless buffoonery, Trump saw opportunity to engage mindless buffoons. And we saw how that all eventually worked out.
Nevertheless, this culture war continues largely unabated, and as we plunge into the holiday season, the battle will pick up steam again, repeating a yearly cycle.
And while the whole thing seems pretty laughable to the majority of rational Americans, there’s a sinister underbelly to this distraction, steeped in antisemitism, and it’s rearing its head again this month.
Across the nation and the globe in just the last few weeks:
- In Beverly Hills, CA, antisemitic flyers were dropped at houses throughout the neighborhood on the first night of Chanukah. The flyers alleged COVID-19 to be a Jewish-led conspiracy.
- In the Ukraine, a Synagogue’s menorah was desecrated on the first night of Chanukah.
- The sign at the Asbell Center for Jewish Life at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, was defaced with stickers bearing a cartoon drawing of Hitler’s face just before Chanukah began
- Antisemetic graffiti defaced bathrooms at a middle school in massachusetts on the anniversary of Kristallnacht
- In the Bronx, NY, a group of antisemites protested proposed vaccination mandates at a Jewish assemblyman’s office while displaying swastikas and yellow Stars of David.
- In Austin, TX, antisemitic graffiti was found outside a local high school, followed shortly by an antisemitic group unfurling a banner and giving the Nazi salute on an overpass near the local Jewish community center.
- On Polish independence day a few weeks ago, throngs of far-right activists converged on the main square in Kalisz shouting “Death to the Jews!” “Death to the enemies of the fatherland!”
- In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted out: “Georgia decided to enact a ‘Green Pass’ system (biomedical security state). Immediately after that, the Rothschilds show up to discuss the attractive investment environment in Georgia (lol). No weird conspiracy theory stuff here!” That tweet has since been deleted and she issued an apology for her echoing the age-old canard about Jews being secret power brokers of the world.
- In Brooklyn, a Jewish woman was attacked by another woman who walked up to her, asked “Are you a Jew?” and then smacked her across the face. This came on the heels of a series of recent antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn, including a brutal assault outside a nightclub, an attack on a pregnant woman, a man shot with a non-lethal projectile, and another man who was punched in the face.
- In Australia, neo-Nazis desecrated Jewish graves in a cemetary in Tasmania.
- A man walked into a bagel shop in Queens, NY, and threatened: “Remove those Israeli flags and shut the business down or I’ll burn the building down.”
- City Hall in Ottawa, Canada, was defaced with antisemitic graffiti.
- At a Planning Board meeting Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York, a man gave a speech in which he said if Orthodox Jews were, “walking in the road at night, not wearing reflectors, and if he was to hit them with his vehicle, he would ‘of course back over them again.’”
- The Homestead Jewish Center in Florida was vandalized with an antisemitic banner the day before Chanukah began, where vandals hung a sheet that read “the goyim know 88.” The “goyim know” relates to the trope that Jewish people secretly control institutes of power like banking and the media, and that gentiles are on to the plot, The number 88 translates to “heil Hitler,” as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
This punch list is by no means a comprehensive one.
Far from it. It’s merely a snapshot of the ever-increasing drumbeat of antisemitc incidents plaguing the world today. And no — I’m not suggesting it’s a direct result of Evangelical fragility over an illusory “War on Christmas.” But these things are related.
Additionally, a rising tide of Qanon-driven conspiracy propaganda is seeping into mainstream consciousness. The basic storyline ties Jews into COVID-19 hysteria; alternating between painting us as masterminds of a plot to design and release the virus, orchestrating the response in order to make money from vaccines, or some combination thereof.
Readers of this column frequently ask me, “what can I do to help?” This holiday season, embrace the differences we all share. Hold your friends and family accountable when they wander into casual antisemitism like espousing some variation of conspiracy talk about the Rothschilds or George Soros. Remember that amid the Christmas marketing blitz, there are myriad other cultures that don’t share the same traditions, and it’s okay to honor those.
Spread that love and joy this season’s supposed to be all about.
*Names have been changed
FOLLOW THAT STORY:
On Oct. 16, George Washington High School was tagged up with racist, antisemitic and anti-LGTBQ graffiti. On Oct. 17, the nearby Denver Academy of Torah building was vandalized. Police are still investigating the crimes and to date, no arrests have been made. Denver Police encourages anyone with information to contact them directly, or you can share information anonymously through Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.
It would be a great mitzvah to the entire community if you do.