The War on Christmas is Real

The Espresso Shot Heard Round the World

On November 5, Arizona vlogger and possible psychopath Joshua Feuerstein posted a Facebook video calling for a worldwide movement to force Starbucks to acknowledge Christmas.  His rant went viral, topping 12 million views in just three days.
Feuerstein was incensed that the world’s largest coffee chain had removed all vestiges of Christendom from its holiday paper cups, though a review of previous years’ cups reveals that Starbucks never actually had Christmas-themed cups in the first place. The cups usually feature stylized swirls, snowflakes, and other random wintery stuff. What does the birth of Christ have to do with the outline of a poinsettia? I don’t know, either. I just know that the ’99 cup design included a car so poorly drawn it resembled a UFO. Because Jesus.

starbucks cups

Feuerstein contends that Starbucks “hates Jesus” and is waging an assault-by-omission on Christmas.  Never mind, please, that Starbucks is offering Christmas blend coffees, Christmas albums, Christmas cookies, and porcelain Christmas mugs in all its stores. Frankly, the average Starbucks in November looks like Santa’s man cave.

Feuerstein also announced his intention to open carry in Starbucks, because Jesus just loved weaponry, right?

On a CNN appearance, he insisted that unnamed plotters are trying to “remove Christmas out of society.” He cited two examples: The SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, has “required that they take down their Christmas tree this year” (falseby popular demand, the mall’s Christmas tree will be going up) and “cities are banning nativity scenes in front of churches” (false – I can’t find a single instance of this happening in the U.S.; cities such as Santa Monica have banned public displays, but never private ones on church properties).

This sort of tirade has become an annual tradition in the U.S., and it is infinitely more beloved than fruitcake or mulled cider ever were.

I’ll Give You My Yule Log When You Pry It From My Frostbitten Hands

It all began roughly two decades ago, when Colorado pastor Jim Hagen noticed that employees at a shopping mall were greeting customers with “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Obviously, this was not an attempt to sideline Christmas (the five aisles of tinsel-decked fuzzy reindeer that pop up in stores every October will attest to that), but Pastor Hagen took (or pretended to take) umbrage. He started a grassroots campaign to get in the face of any minimum-wage retail employee that dared say “happy holidays”, although “happy holidays” is probably more appropriate for a season that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Henry Miller’s birthday, Solstice celebrations, and New Year’s Eve.

Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly later became the face of the movement. In 2004, he began collecting random tales of “holiday trees” being erected in public squares, of elementary schools staging “winter” pageants, etc. His collective term for these widely separated and unconnected incidents was – say it with me now – the “War on Christmas.”
According to O’Reilly (and other Fox pundits, notably John Gibson), this was a full-frontal assault on Christmas orchestrated by liberals, non-Christians, atheists, and Wal-Mart cashiers; a systematic effort to tear down public Christmas trees, banish nativity displays, sanitize school Christmas pageants, and render Christmas carols obsolete. In 2005, Gibson’s book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought became a bestseller.

However, Pastor Hagen and Fox News didn’t manufacture the War on Christmas all on their own. It was actually the brainchild of a British Fortune editor, Peter Brimelow. In the late ’90s, he founded one of the most virulent anti-immigration sites ever run by an immigrant: VDare.com. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies VDare as an extremist site, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. The sidebar of the site’s main articles page is a wall of Confederate flags, advertised as part of a “Personal Patriot Pack” offered to generous donors. Featured articles include “Dalton Trumbo Had It Coming” and essays mourning the death of white civilization. VDare makes it plain that immigrants are probably the worst thing to happen in the history of this planet.
Every Christmas, VDare awards a prize to the writer who can present the most enraging example of the War on Christmas. Bill O’Reilly, as we’ve noted, sticks mostly to elementary school festivities and nativity mangers and such. VDare sticks mostly to immigrants, Communists, Muslims and Jews. You read that correctly. Year after year, the “winners” of VDare’s annual War on Christmas essay competition are crackpots who believe that Jews and other “Christophobes” are trying to abolish Christmas. The 2001 winner, for example, declared Hanukkah to be a make-believe holiday unworthy of observance, and waxed nostalgic over how awesome it was for Whittaker “Pumpkin Patch” Chambers to celebrate Christmas with his kids after leaving those crummy pinkos behind.

Santa Commie

More respectable Christian media outlets soon joined in the yearly rage-fest. In 2007, Focus on the Family, America’s most popular Christian radio show, called for listeners to throw out any mail-order catalogues that used the term “Happy Holidays.” They called this campaign Merry Tossmas.

It was around this time that my own late grandmother, worked into a righteous lather by an afternoon of Fox News viewing, told me she would shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to the first cashier that had the gall to say “Happy holidays!” to her. To my knowledge, she never had to bother.

Then came the legislators.  In 2008, Utah senator Chris Buttars announced a resolution pressuring retailers to allow their employees to use the word “Christmas” in their greetings to customers. He ultimately abandoned the idea, but declared the battle wasn’t over.
In 2009, Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., introduced a resolution calling for the House to protect Christmas symbols and traditions. Brown was particularly peeved that the Obamas’ holiday cards hadn’t explicitly mentioned Christmas. “I believe that sending a Christmas card without referencing a holiday and its purpose limits the Christmas celebration in favor of a more ‘politically correct’ holiday,” he told Fox Radio.

I was more than a little baffled by this War on Christmas rhetoric. You see, I live in a very multicultural city where Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are well-represented. We also have a good number of Sikhs, Hindus, atheists and agnostics, Sai Baba people,  Bahá’í and Unitarian people, Maitreya people, Scientologists, folks who think Jesus came back as a South Korean, and people who worship a former shoe salesman.
Yet there is still a huge Christmas tree in the city square every year. Even when we had a Jewish mayor, you would find an enormous nativity manger parked outside city hall each Christmas. In our stores, Christmas carols play, greeters say “Merry Christmas” more than “Happy Holidays”, and expanded holiday hours are often called “Christmas hours.”

But I’m here to tell you that there is a War on Christmas, ladies and gentleman. It’s all real. A sinister cabal of people actually is trying to rip down your treetop angels and your boughs of holly and those gigantic inflatable snowglobes in your front yard. They are engaged in a tireless, year-round campaign against Christmas presents and gingerbread houses. These merciless killjoys don’t even want you to hang mistletoe or host ugly sweater competitions!

And guess what? These people are Christians.

Let’s take a look at the frontline soldiers in the real War Against Christmas.

Alex Jones/Infowars

Texas broadcaster and professional paranoid Alex Jones has long been an anti-Christmas fanatic. I first discovered this during his December 14, 2007 broadcast, when he spent a solid five minutes excoriating listeners for buying frivolous Christmas gifts like clothing and sweets and Pagan-inspired Christmas decorations – buy merchandise from the Infowars Store instead! Get the extended 12-hour director’s cut of The Obama Deception! Annoy your friends! Depress your family! Make everyone wish you’d get carted off to a FEMA camp so they don’t have to listen to your fatalistic bullshit a minute longer!

Three Christmases later, Jones’ Prison Planet website re-posted a Russia Today report titled Christmas is pagan celebration of shopping & eating’.

Last December, Infowars re-posted Michael Snyder’s essay on how Christmas gift-giving – and Christmas itself – is a sick, soulless pagan tradition.

So it’s well-established that Jones and company don’t like Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, and the other heathen and godless trappings of Christmas, right?

Well, not quite. In 2013, Jones sent two of his lackeys reporters to the Christmas tree display on the Texas state legislature grounds to express his outrage that non-Christians allegedly opposed having a Christmas tree there. He titled this report “Soft Killing Christmas” (video here). Confused yet? That’s Jonestown for you. Don’t agree with him, he’s already changed his mind.

Santa tapping your phones

The Santa = Satan Crowd

Last Christmas, the Born Again Independent Baptist Church in Harlem displayed “Santa is Satan” on its marquee sign. Most observers were baffled by this, but Pastor Edward Caruthers’ choice to associate Santa Claus with the Adversary of all mankind is not uncommon among American Christians.

santa is satan

Answers in Genesis features an article by Roger Patterson, urging parents to cool it with Santa Claus because belief in him involves deception and manipulation – and takes away too much attention from Christ. Cutting Edge Ministries has a handy chart to show you why Santa is the counterfeit Jesus.

Some Christians, like this guy, rebel against modern depictions of Santa because they stem from Coca-Cola marketing campaigns.

For true Santa-hate, it’s hard to top Wisconsin outsider artist Norbert Kox. An alleged former biker, Kox developed some rather outré Christian beliefs after an Easy Rider-calibre acid freakout in the ’70s. He decided that most of what we know about Christianity, right down to Jesus’s name, is really blasphemous misinformation that must be discarded by seekers after truth. That includes everything we think we know about Christmas. In the December 1986 issue of his now-defunct newsletter, The Wisconsin Caver, Kox linked Santa Claus to Zeus, “Old Nick” (the Devil), Odin, and just about every non-Christian deity known to history. He habitually referred to Santa as “Satan Claws.”

Santa watching you

“We Don’t Do Christmas”

It’s not just eccentrics waging war on Christmas, though. Many Christian denominations have always eschewed the season: The United Church of God , the Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are the best-known denominations to reject Christmas.
In addition, there are a growing number of evangelical Christians who won’t celebrate the holiday because it has pagan roots, encourages “worldly” behaviour such as greed, and/or isn’t explicitly referenced in the Bible.
In fact, there are so many of these Christians that Kirk Cameron addressed a presentation to them at Liberty University last year (video here) and attempted to reclaim Santa for Christianity with a feature film, Saving Christmas. He pointed out that Saint Nicholas was a model Christian who can be fondly remembered for his charity. Other, anti-Catholic evangelicals promptly told him to put a sock in it.

So if you want to save Christmas, you might end up saving it from the people who created it in the first place.

 

P.S.:  This post was written in my local Starbucks.

starbucks

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Flim-Flam Friday: Cherry Supplements

flimflam1

cherries

For the past few years, one of the trendiest trends in the alternative-health universe has been dietary supplements made from sour (tart) cherries. They’re particularly popular with athletes and arthritis sufferers.

What does the product supposedly do?

Cherry supplements supposedly work as anti-inflammatories, helping to relieve joint pain and muscle soreness without the side effects of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other over-the-counter remedies. Some are marketed as effective treatments for gout. A few companies take it a step farther by claiming their cherry supplements are diet aids or can lower cholesterol. Both claims lack strong evidence. A single rat study ties cherry juice to weight loss (1), and one study found a 26% cholesterol decrease in mice fed cherry powder (2)
One company’s advertisement touts two studies by Winona State University’s Dr. Farnsworth Gary Kastello, which found that two cherry products reduced muscle soreness after exercise…if taken for sixteen days prior to exercising. The problem with these results is that the studies were not double-blind, controlled studies; the participants took only the cherry supplements and were aware that these products were the focus of the study. Furthermore, the results have not appeared in any peer-reviewed publication. Buh-bye, scientific validity.

taking-pills

“Gonna be a rough workout tonight…better hop in the ol’ Tardis and pop a shitload of cherry pills for half a month.”

There are a few studies indicating that runners who drink cherry juice exhibit reduced isometric stress, oxidative stress, inflammation, pain and strength loss, but the number of participants in each study is so incredibly small (14-54) that the results are really not helpful. (3)
The only other evidence of cherry-supplement efficacy is anecdotal. Company websites and Facebook pages overflow with glowing testimonials from customers, like this one: “Since taking your cherry supplements, … I cured myself. I believe prayer, diet, and your cherry supplements have put my body back on a healthy track.”

What’s the active ingredient?

In sour cherries, the anti-inflammatory component is cyanidin, a kind of anthocyanidin.
Many companies also tout the antioxidants in their cherry-based products, though that isn’t necessarily as awesome as we might think it is.

Does it work as advertised?

While it’s true that sour cherries have anti-inflammatory properties (as shown by numerous legit studies conducted in the past 10 years), the big question is: Do cherry supplements offer the same benefits as the fruit? The answer is

animated-shrug-house

To date, no comparison studies have been conducted. Generally speaking, though, actual food is usually a more efficient source of nutrients than supplements derived from that food (in some cases, the processing of food to create supplements can even compromise or destroy the active ingredient). (4)

Pac-Man

FACTOID: Cherries enable you to see and devour ghosts

The FDA has sent warning letters to numerous producers of cherry products (drinks, tablets, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with any of these products. The problem is in the labeling. Once you begin to claim curative powers for your food products, you’re automatically selling a drug – and the FDA has yet to approve any cherry-based product as a drug. It’s one thing to sell cherry juice, and quite another to say your cherry juice is an effective treatment for arthritis.

cherry cuddler with gooseberry

FACTOID: Snorting a Cherry Cuddler doll cures herpes.

So what’s the problem?

There is simply no reason to accept, at this point, that any of the bottled cherry products are superior to the real thing. There is no scientific evidence that cherry supplements offer the same potential benefits as plain old sour cherries, and the price of a bottle of cherry juice or cherry pills is considerably higher than a bag of fresh sour cherries, even if they’re out of season. Example: One company offers 60 dried tart cherry capsules for $18.95. Fresh tart cherries rarely exceed $1/lb (US), and 20 of these cherries can have the same effect as a tablet of ibuprofen or aspirin. (4)
So if you’re buying into the supplement hype based on testimonials and a handful of dodgy studies, you might just be a

red-lollipop-on-white

(cherry-flavoured, of course)

Thanks to Renee @ The Skeptic Project for directing me to most of the info in this post!

Sources:

1. Seymour EM, Lewis, SK, Urcuyo-Llanes, DE, Kirakosyan A, Kaufman PB, Bolling SF. (2009) Regular Tart Cherry Intake Alters Abdominal Adiposity, Adipose Gene Transcription and Inflammation in Obesity-Prone Rats Fed a High Fat Diet. J Med Food 12(5):935-42.
2. Seymour EM, Kondoleon MG, Huang MG, Kirakosyan A, Kaufman PB, Bolling SF. FASEB Journal. 2011.
3. – Howatson G et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 12 2010, vol./is. 20/6(843-52), 0905-7188;1600-0838
– Connolly D et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006; 40: 679-683
4.Basics on Sour Cherries” by Karen Ravn (Los Angeles Times. July 14, 2012)