“We can say merry Christmas again,” he has said on numerous occasions both during his campaign for president and his presidency. “Christmas is back, better and bigger than ever before,” he told supporters months before the Christmas season.
“You can say again, ‘Merry Christmas’ because Donald Trump is now the president,” said Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after Trump won the election.
Many of Trump’s Christian supporters argue that the president is ending the alleged “war on Christmas,” which has been presented by evangelicals and Fox news anchors as a threat to America’s Christian culture. Trump supporters say Americans have become too politically correct when they wish people happy holidays, a neutral term that can be used for people who celebrate Hanukkah, Eid, or any other religious holiday that takes place around the same time as Christmas.
But critics counter that Trump is promoting a version of the holidays that excludes members of other religions, and that his crusade to bring back Christmas is part of a larger attempt by the president to define America as a country for white Christians alone.
Wishing people “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” is thus in line with Trump’s decision to ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, critics say. It fits neatly with his refusal to condemn white supremacists when they march against diversity, and with his condemnation of athletes who protest police brutality against black men.
With this in mind, the fight to end the war on Christmas is exclusionary politics at its most flagrant.
“I see such invocations of Christmas as a kind of cypher, what some would call a dog whistle. It does not appear to be intolerant or extreme, but to attentive audiences it speaks volumes about identity and belonging—who and what are fully American,” Richard King, a professor at Washington State University who studies how white supremacists exploit culture, told Newsweek.
“Much like ‘Make America Great Again,’ panics over the protests by NFL players, and the defense of Confederate memory, Christmas is a way to talk about peril, to assert a soft or hard version of white nationalism.”
Trump isn’t the first political figure in history to co-opt Christmas. In fact, some see parallels between Trump’s speeches in front of Christmas trees and attempts by authoritarian regimes like the Nazis to manipulate popular celebrations to promote a political ideology. But by weaponizing Christmas in this way, Trump is bringing a dangerous tradition of politicizing religious holidays into the United States, experts say.