A couple of weekends ago, I went up to the Koehler Senior Center to take a picture. The Senior Citizens of Mahopac had raised $510 for Toys for Tots and was going to present the check.

Now, you may or may not know that Toys for Tots is a program started by the U.S. Marines, so we had a genuine Marine, looking splendiferous in his dress uniform, show up for the photo op. Also posing in the picture were a half-dozen members of the Senior Citizens of Mahopac who were also veterans and whose service ranged from World War II to Korea to Vietnam.

However, there was not a single veteran of the War on Christmas in attendance. Perhaps they had been recalled and were back on the front lines fighting the good fight. After all, ‘tis the season. They could have been out on the sidewalks and in the shopping malls admonishing people: “Hey, you! Say ‘Merry Christmas’ or else I will write a very strongly worded letter to the editor!”

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To be honest, I didn’t hear as much about the War on Christmas this season as in recent years. At first I thought that might be because of President Trump, who, during his campaign in 2016 promised that if elected, he would say “Merry Christmas” a lot. I actually heard him say “Merry Christmas” on TV just the other day. He also said, “Happy New Year,” but then quickly backtracked by adding, “Yeah, but mostly Merry Christmas.” I am not making that up.

But I think probably the main reason the War on Christmas has taken a back seat to actual real things this year is two-fold. First, Barak Obama isn’t president anymore, so there is no pressing need to make up stuff with which to attack him. (It was often intimated that Obama was the super-secret covert leader in the pretend liberal battle against the Christian holiday.) Second, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’ perv-in-residence, who was the self-appointed commander-in-chief in the War on Christmas, is no longer on TV to stoke the fires of manufactured indignation. They tried. There was a little hubbub last month when Starbucks introduced its official coffee cup for the holidays, but without O’Reilly bloviating from his bully pulpit, the angry fist-pumping and letter-to-the-editor-writing fizzled quickly. 

That coffee company’s annual introduction of its holiday paper cup is usually considered the official kickoff of the annual Christmas Battle Royale. In 2015, the cup really rankled the already bruised and battered conservative souls which had been forced to live under Obama and—at that point—six years of peace and relative prosperity. So, why were they rankled? Because the cup was just plain red with the green Starbucks logo on it. Where were the silhouettes of the nativity scene? Where were the illustrations of choirs of beatific angels singing of heavenly hosts on high? Where were the Bible quotes piously displayed in fancy fonts?

Starbucks responded to all this by saying, “Wait. What?

But those corporate coffee heathens were just getting started. In 2016, its cups displayed a variety of designs, mostly seasonal in nature. They featured things such as snowflakes (real snowflakes, not liberals), reindeer, birch trees, snow-covered pines, Santa in his sleigh and strings of Christmas tree lights. And while all this was certainly more Christmas-y than a plain old red cup, these designs reflected the secular side of the holiday. ‘Twas not a single baby Jesus in sight.

This year’s cup again featured nods to Christmas tradition, including a decorated Christmas tree. But that big-tent approach hasn’t been enough to avoid controversy. This year, critics wondered whether Starbucks was using its holiday cups to promote homosexuality.

Yup. Apparently, that’s a thing.

The latest controversy focused on a pair of animated gender-neutral hands holding each other on the side of the cup itself. The background illustrations included snowflakes (again), wreaths, the aforementioned Christmas tree and gaily wrapped presents (sorry).

When asked whether they were indeed promoting a gay agenda, the Starbucks PR folks elected to further feed the paranoia of Fox News aficionados by saying, “We intentionally designed the cup so that our customers can interpret it in their own way, adding their own color and illustrations.” They did that without giggling.

But without General O’Reilly at the helm to sow the seeds of discontent (when he wasn’t busy harassing co-workers), the gay agenda conspiracy was pushed back into the closet. Nonetheless, Trump declared bigly victory in the War on Christmas and likely considered commanding Walmart executives to fire any store greeters who shouted, “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” until someone told him he wasn’t allowed to do that. Yet.

Truth be told, the origins of the illusory War on Christmas can be traced back to 2005 and Fox News. Back then, the network was promoting a book by conservative radio host John Gibson—a Fox News employee—called “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.”

But even Gibson thought he was misunderstood. In an interview with The New York Times in 2016, he said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years and that he never meant to dwell on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.” He attributed the firestorm to two things: the book’s take-no-prisoners title and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he told the paper. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega.”

And though Papa O’Reilly has blissfully disappeared from the airwaves, his corrosive demeanor now relegated to the dark, fetid corridors of the Gropers Hall of Fame, his legacy staggers onward on social media. Occasionally, one will trip across a meme on Facebook that will have a picture of the nativity with the words, “Share this if you are not afraid to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

The thing is, no one has ever been afraid to say “Merry Christmas.” Never have been.

The expression “Happy Holidays” has been around for 100 years and is used by some business owners and conscientious individuals who simply want to be more inclusive, not to dis Christmas. In fact, Bing Cosby sang a song called “Happy Holidays” in the classic film “Holiday Inn.” And I never heard O’Reilly rail against Der Bingle for doing it.

But it drives some folks batty that not everyone here in Murica is a Christian. There are Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, atheists, Scientologists, Rastafarians (yea!), Muslims (gasp!) and more. Even a Christian group such as the Jehovah Witnesses is not allowed to observe Christmas. So, when a store greeter says, “Happy Holidays!” or a business sends you a card that says, “Have a joyous holiday season,” it simply means they don’t know what your belief system is and don’t want to offend you, but want to send you good wishes nonetheless. Because they want your business! It’s a good thing. Really. Trust me.

Well, now I’m off to my leftover figgy pudding and a tall mug of mead.

Happy holidays, everyone!