Do Christmas displays show bias against the poor and those who don’t celebrate? These neighbors say yes

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ST. ANTHONY, Minnesota (NBC News/KARE/KXAN) — At least four residents of one Minnesota town have received a letter shaming them for putting up Christmas light displays and asking for their removal.

In the letter sent to neighbors in one St. Anthony community, the anonymous sender addresses the Christmas light displays in each yard, stating in part: “The idea of twinkling, colorful lights are a reminder of divisions in our society and systemic biases against neighbors who don’t celebrate Christmas, or who can’t afford to, during these unprecedented times.”

“A lot of people felt really singled out and really creeped out that someone came and took down their addresses,” says Rachel Blodgett, who lives near the houses that received the letter.

The letter went on to ask those who received it, “to respect the dignity of all people.”

“I think the letter in itself was absurd, but I think the sentiment is incredibly valid. I just don’t think that it was gone about in the correct way,” Blodgett says.

At least one of the recipients filed a police report, but St. Anthony police say that because the letter was not threatening, no crime was committed.

Who celebrates Christmas?

A 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 96% of U.S. Christians say they celebrate Christmas, and 81% of non-Christians say they celebrate.

Among the overall religiously unaffiliated, 68% of people also said they celebrate the holiday.

Aside from religion, 32% of those surveyed said they viewed Christmas as a cultural event, rather than a religious one. Fifty-one percent of participants said they viewed it as a religious event.

‘Everyone is off having a party without me’

In 2017, journalist Lilit Marcus described her experience as a Jewish woman who does not celebrate Christmas (about 32% U.S. Jews said they put up Christmas trees), describing it as “a kick in the jaw.”

Marcus said society overtly prioritizes Christmas over Hanukkah and other religious holidays, and that decorations and “well-intentioned” sentiments serve as a reminder that she is not part of the majority.

“I’m an exception to the given social rule, and everyone else is off having a party without me simply because of my beliefs,” Marcus said.

“Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”

Unlike phrases like, “please” and “thank you,” language expert Melissa Mohr says saying “Merry Christmas” vs. saying “Happy Holidays” indicates more about the speaker instead of extending kindness to the listener.

“Today, however, the practice of using “Merry Christmas” is a fraught one,” writes Mohr for NBC News. “The choice between sticking with the traditional salutation or the more politically correct “Happy Holidays” is riven by differences in ideology, age, geography and gender.”

According to Mohr, the insistence on saying “Merry Christmas” is likely to come from a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest. Someone who insists on “Happy Holidays,” meanwhile, is likely to be a Democratic woman between 18 and 29 living in the Northeast.

She argues that saying one or the other merely indicates who you are, rather than making the other person feel good.

Mohr says: “Merry Christmas” advertises that you’re likely a conservative and comfortable with Christianity as the default. “Happy Holidays” conveniently ignores the fact that, of the world’s major religions, only two or so have important celebrations in December, and thus often indicates, “I am a liberal and try hard to be inclusive, but I still want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

The argument over which phrase is the “right” one is also part of a larger theory — most likely to be supported by more conservative Americans — that non-Christians stage a yearly “War on Christmas” by trying to force traditions to the fringes for political correctness.

‘The War on Christmas’

According to Politico, the theory of a “War on Christmas” can be traced back to Dec. 7, 2004, when former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly aired a segment called “Christmas Under Siege.”

“Secular progressives realize that America as it is now will never approve of gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation and many other progressive visions because of religious opposition,” O’Reilly said during the segment. “But if the secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is a possibility. That’s what happened in Canada.”

Days after this, Politico reports, other conservative commentators picked up on the idea.

But not all conservatives agree that Christmas is under attack, with Washington Post columnist George Will saying in 2017, ““Not every skirmish is a war, and Christmas seems to be doing fine, so I have nothing to add to this seasonal subject.”

This year, belief in a “War on Christmas” is taking a new shape, with many top Republicans expressing refusal to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines during the holiday.

On Nov. 27, Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted: ““They tried to cancel Thanksgiving. Didn’t work! They’re coming for Christmas next.”

Meanwhile, Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar referred to the Centers for Disease Control as “federal overlords.”

The resistance to following health recommendations come as medium-large gatherings are discouraged nationwide.

“The cultural roots of our public health crisis are deep, and our leadership isn’t helping,” writes Rebecca Onion for Slate. “Indoor gatherings are killing people, and Americans who have been primed for years to perceive the continuity of tradition around Thanksgiving and Christmas as a point of partisan pride are about to convene some big ones.”

For Christmas 2020, the CDC currently discourages travel and staying home with those who live in your household. Other safety measures such as mask-wearing, staying six-feet apart and avoiding indoor spaces are still urged.

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