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The ‘War On Christmas’ Is As Stale As Last Year’s Fruitcake

The “War on Christmas,” a perceived attack on Americans’ ability to refer to the holiday season as Christmas season, has been an annual media spectacle for at least 12 years. This year, it’s wrapped with an election-themed bow. While campaigning, Donald Trump told supporters at a rally in Iowa that if he were elected president, we’d be saying “‘merry Christmas’ at every store.” And now that Trump has won, Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, assured “Hannity” viewers that Trump’s victory meant observers of the holiday were allowed to say “merry Christmas” again. But it doesn’t appear that too many people were afraid to say it in the first place: According to two polls conducted by Fox News, one in 2008 and another in 2010, three out of four people said they didn’t feel obligated to use a secular greeting over “merry Christmas.”

To get in the holiday — ahem, Christmas spirit — I did some digging through media archives and found that the media fascination with the “War on Christmas” dates to at least the 2005 publication of a book bearing that name. (Full title: “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot To Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.”) That year, a segment on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” featuring the book’s author, John Gibson, named companies that refused to use Christmas in their advertising.1 The segment was followed by a flurry of stories from various news outlets, as well as pushback from left-leaning blogs and TV shows and a spike in Google search interest on the subject.


That year, Gallup observed a huge increase in the share of Americans, of both major political parties, who thought that the use of secular greetings in stores and public institutions was a change for the worse. By December of 2005, a whopping 80 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats said they felt that way.

Data from the TV News Archive shows that Fox News has been the keeper of the flame since then.

Fox & Friends Fox News 80
The O’Reilly Factor Fox News 56
Red Eye Fox News 34
The Ed Show MSNBC 26
CNN Newsroom CNN 24
The Five Fox News 22
PoliticsNation MSNBC 18
The Daily Show Comedy Central 17
Talking Liberally Current TV 15
Martin Bashir MSNBC 15
America’s News Headquarters Fox News 10
The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC 9
Today NBC 9
The Last Word MSNBC 8
World News Now ABC 8
Chasing News Fox affiliates 7
NOW With Alex Wagner MSNBC 7
Morning Joe MSNBC 6
Hardball with Chris Matthews MSNBC 6
Hannity Fox News 6
Varney & Co. Fox Business 6
TV news shows that have mentioned the War on Christmas most often since July 2009

Of channels included in the TV News Archive. We combined different iterations of the same show. For example, ”Fox & Friends Saturday” and ”Fox & Friends Sunday” are included in “Fox & Friends.”


Last week, O’Reilly finally declared victory in a battle that had largely become a caricature of other partisan debates: religious conservatives vs. politically-correct liberals, or what O’Reilly called “this culture war issue.”2 Despite the vitriolic rhetoric by commentators on both sides of this Christmas controversy, a poll released by Public Policy Polling on Monday found that a majority of Americans (51 percent) don’t think there is a war on Christmas. (This is a change from last year, when the share was 42 percent.) Most Americans now find both “merry Christmas” and “happy holidays” to be acceptable greetings but favor “merry Christmas” when asked to choose.


  1. Although the moniker “War on Christmas” doesn’t appear to have been applied consistently until 2005, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly covered the topic a few years earlier in one form or another.

  2. This isn’t the first time he has declared victory.

Dhrumil Mehta was a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight.