By Emma Kaden
Last week, First Lady Melania Trump shared her White House Christmas decorations with the world… and some of the world wasn’t very pleased. Many people criticized her choices in décor, especially a hallway full of bright red berry trees. They were compared to discriminatory outfits from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, among other not-so-pleasant things. So why the backlash? Since when has it become socially acceptable to insult the holiday décor at the White House?
Well, it goes a lot deeper than a simple dislike of red trees.
The United States was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and as such, Christmas has been celebrated since the colonists first arrived. This celebration may not hold so much religious importance as it may have long ago, but has become a cultural tradition that has spread throughout the country. As such, many Americans hold Christmas near and dear to their heart—and many celebrate Christmas even if their religious beliefs do not align with Christianity.
However, Christmas has morphed into something even more than just a cultural tradition. Christmas nowadays involves a specific set of symbols, decorations, music, and so much more—and anyone who deviates from that has the mob mentality of a nation set upon them. Christmas trees must be green, they must have a star on top, there must be plenty of ornaments—and those are just the requirements for Christmas trees. Culturally, Christmas has become something where subscribing to the societal norm is the only way to escape criticism.
At the same time, society is struggling to stay inclusive—that is, you can have your tree perfectly decorated, have your Amazon Echo playing all the right Christmas songs, and still get in trouble for saying “Merry Christmas.” In fact, many big corporations have taken to putting “Happy Holidays” on their December packaging and advertising in order to be inclusive to those celebrating Hanukkah and other holidays. Yet this, too, has caused a divide. According to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, 67 percent of Republicans think switching “Merry Christmas” for “Happy Holidays” is unnecessary, and 30 percent of Democrats think the same.
Through the lens of the cultural phenomenon of Christmas, and how it has evolved from a Christian celebration to a set of rules about what color your tree can be (hint: green), maybe “Merry Christmas” isn’t so secular after all. Or maybe it still holds enough religious value to merit switching out the phrase.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.