See also: In Memoriam Sam Francis (April 29, 1947—February 15, 2005)
This year marks the 20th year in which I have written about the War on Christmas for VDARE.com. My opening salvo against the enemies of Christmas was first published in Chronicles and was republished here, with a generous introduction by Peter Brimelow; in the Middle American News, and, in a slightly abridged form, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the Sunday before Christmas 2001. I could tell the piece had hit a nerve. Nothing else I have written has ever generated so much correspondence, both public and private. It was also quoted, at length, in the syndicated columns of two men I greatly admired, Pat Buchanan [The Abolition of Christmas, December 21, 2001] and Sam Francis.
At first glance, it may seem somewhat surprising that Sam Francis would take up the cause of Christmas. Sam was not a churchgoer. But he took up the defense of Christmas because he knew, as does the Left, that countries are ultimately shaped by what they celebrate and what they don’t celebrate, by who they honor and who they don’t. Sam had no doubt of the importance of the topic, and his Christmas columns, though but a tiny sliver of what he wrote, are illustrative of his thought.
Sam thought the War on Christmas was important enough to merit a book, and he repeatedly urged me to write one. One of his emails encouraging me to do this is both funny and prophetic: “You should really do a book. It won’t be too long before books won’t be allowed.”
Sam himself was unambiguous: Americans should celebrate Christmas. Indeed, he was stronger on this point than I was:
“Ultimately,” writes Mr. Piatak, “we should be free to celebrate Christmas publicly and joyously, because it is a great holiday, and because it is our holiday, one of the crowning glories of the Western culture that gave birth to America and sustains us still.” If, of course, you are not part of the “we” to which “our” refers, then maybe you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. But then maybe you shouldn’t be in America—or anywhere else west of Tora Bora.
Ho Ho Ho, Christmas Has To Go!, December 17, 2001
Sam expanded his thinking in a column three years later, in which he praised Charles Krauthammer for refusing to join those wishing to suppress the public celebration of Christmas. But he also pointed out the danger in accepting Krauthammer’s argument that one of the reasons to oppose the War on Christmas was the belligerents’ refusal to recognize that “the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them” [Just Leave Christmas Alone, Washington Post, December 17, 2004].
The problem with this, according to Sam, was that it reflected Krauthammer’s neoconservatism, which “is a form of liberalism.” As liberals, neocons like Krauthammer were “incapable of saying flatly and clearly that while Americans certainly enjoy a right to practice whatever religions they wish, Christianity remains the public religion of the nation—whether one believes in it or not or likes it or not.” Sam then noted:
It is precisely because Christianity is vital to our national identity that there is a war against it, and that’s the reason also there is now a nationwide resistance to that war by Americans who wish to conserve our national identity.
So much for the claim, bruited about in some quarters, that Sam was hostile to Christianity.
Sam concluded that “the refusal or inability of neo-conservatism to affirm that America does not just ‘celebrate and honor’ ‘minority religions’ but is publicly and historically identified with a particular religion central to its institutions and values, its culture and identity” meant that resistance to the “war on Christmas” and “the larger war on America” would be ineffectual: “we need more than neoconservatism to conserve our nation.”
Even more revealing than Sam’s column on Charles Krauthammer was his column on E. J. Dionne, who usefully summarized the Left’s standard responses to those resisting the War on Christmas. The first, that it doesn’t exist. Francis countered Dionne’s claim that “the whole war [on Christmas] was just a conservative fantasy” by noting that “Christians and conservatives” had good reason to be upset by the attempt to replace Christmas with “holiday” [Peace on Earth?, by E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 21, 2004]. Sam wrote:
The reason they get upset is only in part religious and has nothing to do with intolerance, bigotry, fanaticism, or the other dark passions that secular liberals imagine are what invariably explains any expression of religious belief. The reason they get upset is that the expression of religious belief and the practice of secular customs derived from religion are being banned. The name for that is not bigotry but tyranny. And the people who defend it are called liberals.
The second standard Leftist argument is that celebrating Christmas in public is wrong because there are people who don’t celebrate Christmas. For Dionne, the central issue was the unquestioned right of “religious minorities” and “nonbelievers” to avoid being reminded of a holiday they don’t celebrate.
But for Sam, “[t]he controversy is about whether Christians can celebrate or even observe in public their own religious holidays in a country (or even local community) that is overwhelmingly Christian and has been throughout its history.” Given this history, Sam saw no reason for the Christian majority to try to keep the celebration of Christmas under a bushel basket. As Sam pointedly asked in his column on Dionne:
Why do such minorities invite themselves into a society in which they feel alien and then insist the majority abandon its religious beliefs and national identity so the minority can feel at home?
The third standard leftist response to resistance to the War on Christmas is to insist that something is wrong with the resisters. Dionne did this by charging that those of us who defend the public celebration of Christmas “are behaving not as Christians but as a tribe.”
Francis responded that Leftists worry about “tribal behavior” because “they imagine there is this creature called 'man' (or nowadays 'humankind') that can somehow be separated from tribe-nation, religion, community, ethnicity, gender, history, culture.”
Sam forcefully dissented. Citing the famous aphorism of Joseph de Maistre—“During my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on . . . but I must say, as for man, I have never come across him anywhere”—Sam argued that
"tribal behavior" is what makes human beings human. Take it away from "man" or "humankind" and what you get is not "pure man" or "liberated man" but dehumanization, and from that, tyranny. That’s exactly where the war against Christmas (and similar wars against other expressions of "tribalism") is heading.
(A side note: Sam approved of “tribal behavior” even when he was not himself a member of the tribe. I experienced this first hand when I told Sam I wanted to review a book on Notre Dame football in Chronicles [God, Country, Notre Dame, May 2006]. Sam was not a sports fan, and neither is Chilton Williamson, who was the magazine’s book editor at the time. But Sam, a Southern Protestant of colonial stock, was sympathetic when this Northern Catholic with mostly Slavic roots told him that I wanted to write about the Fighting Irish because a football Saturday in South Bend represented “the largest regular gathering of my tribe on the North American continent.”)
Sam never disparaged the religious origins of Christmas or argued that Christmas should be observed in a purely secular way. Far from it. But Sam also saw Christmas, in part, as being a celebration of a civilization, another instance of the “tribal behavior” so upsetting to Dionne:
Americans celebrate Christmas not just for religious reasons . . . but because it happens to be a national and, even more broadly, a civilizational tradition. There are lots of different aspects to the holiday, which involve lots of different aspects of our lives and attentions.
Of course, some of the opposition to Christmas is tribal as well. Sam acknowledged that “[s]ome non-Western peoples in the West want their cultural symbols to replace ours” and noted that “Christmas can survive among non-Western and non-Christian immigrants only if it’s stripped of its Christian identity.”
However, Sam insisted that the major problem was not the desire of one tribe to replace another but the desire to replace all the many tribes of man with a universal tribelessness:
But in most cases of the war against Christmas, those waging the war don’t have any civilization at all. What they have is the globalist-humanist peanut butter of the New World Order, where no one has any nation, religion, race, or heritage and we all vegetate together as "Humankind." ... Real civilization isn’t about and doesn’t revolve around the oleomargarine versions of Christmas, and the fake "civilization" that the multiculturalists and multiracialists babble about and try to force everyone else to observe never created anything. No one ever fought for it or died for it or even planned their schedule around it, so almost by definition it can’t possibly produce anything like a real holiday. Nobody, except the thin-blooded munchkins who created it, cares a hoot about it.
Sam wrote those words in 2001, and since then, those “thin-blooded munchkins” have made great progress in replacing the tribal and the real in American life with the global and the phony.
One result of this is cultural stagnation. A man who hates himself is unlikely to produce anything of value. The same is true for civilizations. One fifth of the twenty-first century has passed, and I would be hard pressed to name a single work of art produced anywhere in the West during that period that is likely to be remembered a century from now, much less enjoyed.
To put the same problem another way: In 1920, it was hard to travel from city to city in America, and even harder to travel abroad, but those making the journey found places that were remarkably real and remarkably different. The same journeys are much easier today, but also less rewarding, because the destinations all start to feel the same, part of an impending universal culture of lowest common denominator mediocrity.
Tribalism may seem an odd place from which to defend the festival celebrating the birth of the Savior of the World. But I prefer to think of it as paradoxical. The belief that Jesus came to offer salvation to all no more requires cultural and political uniformity than the actual celebration of His birth has required all Christians to celebrate it the same way. (Sam may have been thinking of my tendency to think everyone finds Polish Christmas carols as wonderful as I do when he inscribed this on one of his books: “To Tom Piatak, a good friend, even though he’s Polish.”)
And just as there is nothing wrong with non-Western peoples striving to preserve their cultures and traditions, there is nothing wrong with Western peoples striving to preserve ours. Including, as I put it twenty years ago, a public and joyous celebration of Christmas, “one of the crowning glories of the Western culture that gave birth to America and sustains us still.”
Thomas Piatak [Email him] is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.