It’s hard to imagine that there’s such a thing as a ridiculous Christmas controversy. After all, isn’t Christmas supposed to be a holiday of peace and harmony (and all sorts of other good stuff)? Apparently not. As you will see here in a minute, Christmas has been one of the most controversial holidays around. From the War on Christmas to Starbucks cups, some of these controversies are so insane, you might not see Christmas the same way ever again. Seriously. So, strap on your Christmas hat and play your favorite Christmas song because you’re about to see some of the most ridiculous Christmas controversies that actually happened.
The First Christmas Controversy
Let’s begin our list with the very first Christmas controversy in history. This might come as a bit of a surprise but the first Christmas controversy was initiated by non-other than Christians. Their gripe was not a perceived “War on Christmas” (as you will read about later) but rather they were the ones who initiated the “war” which even included legal penalties! It all started in the 17th century when Puritans rebelled against King Charles I (and won). The resulting Puritan government then proceeded to ban Christmas. Puritans believed the holiday to be a heretical practice rooted in a pagan origin. When the Puritans canceled Christmas, they forbade traditional Christmas expressions, shops were ordered to stay open, churches were shut down and ministers were arrested for preaching on Christmas Day!
War on Christmas
Probably the most widespread Christmas controversy of them all has been labeled “The War on Christmas,” a term that you have probably heard by now, I’m sure. This holiday war started with the Puritans (see point #1). In this day and age, however, the war on Christmas started with a 2005 book by radio host, John Gibson entitled, “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.”
The book alleged that there was a liberal antagonism toward the holiday. This was further exacerbated by Fox News’ host Bill O’ Reilly who went on to accuse liberals of “tying the Christmas situation into secular progressive politics.” In essence, some people believe there is a systematic attempt to eliminate anything that is remotely religious from Christmas.
In particular, some Christians believe Christ is being taken out of Christmas and Donald Trump has used this “War on Christmas” as an example and a political promise to bring back Christmas. The problem is that Christmas never left. There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States. Christmas is a holiday like any other holiday and is celebrated differently by many people who share many backgrounds and many beliefs.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
In one of the most recent controversies surrounding Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was labeled as a “seriously problematic” show. In an article released by the Huffington Post, this timeless classic was criticized for the reindeer’s marginalization and bullying by Santa and the other reindeers. Who would have thought right?
However, the controversy does not seem to have hurt the show’s favorable standing with the masses. A recent poll found that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was among the most beloved Christmas movies with 83% of participants finding it favorable.
There are many characters associated with Christmas stories. However, one character has proven to be particularly offensive. Black Pete is a character associated with the Christmas holidays in the Netherlands who often accompanies their version of Santa Claus. He is usually represented with a black face and curly black hair. Opponents argue that the character is filled with offensive racial undertones. The portrayal is part of a historically negative stereotype of Black people dating back to colonialism, including, “portraying Black people as stupid, lazy, and uncivilized caricatures for entertainment.”
Polar Bear Cookies
We’ve already talked about the controversy surrounding Starbucks’ Christmas cups. But cups are not the only controversial things Starbucks has had to deal with. In 2015, the coffee giant unveiled polar bear red-scarfed cookies, which sound innocent enough. However, some people mistook the red scarf on the polar bears with blood. Needless to say, the imagery of a white polar bear and a bloody neck disturbed quite a few people. Do you think people’s reaction to this cookie was exaggerated?
OCD Christmas Sweater
We’ve already talked about Hallmark’s Christmas sweater controversy. But Hallmark is not the only company with Christmas sweater woes. Target found itself in hot water when it introduced its Obsessive Christmas Disorder (OCD) Christmas Sweater. Disgruntled shoppers complained the Christmas sweater made light of the mental illness and that the “garment trivializes those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Target spokesman Josh Thomas said in a statement,”We never want to disappoint any of our guests and apologize for any discomfort.”
Naked Man Nativity Scene
It’s hard to imagine that the Vatican’s Christmas nativity scene would cause controversy…but it has. In 2017, the Vatican unveiled a large nativity scene complete with 6-foot tall figures and a 92-foot spruce tree. However, people could not help but notice the “beefy, ripped naked man” in the mix. The scene depicts seven corporal works of mercy. In one scene, a dead man is being buried, in another, a prisoner is visited. The naked man is being clothed. Critics argued that the naked man took attention away from the nativity of Jesus.
Do you remember the skeleton Santa and how everyone in that city lost their minds over it? Well, something similar happened in Deer Park, Ohio. A zombie nativity scene caused quite the stir with local zoning officials and religious groups who argued that the scene was offensive and sacrilegious. Even though the display was constructed on someone’s private front yard, zoning officials still fined Jasen and Amanda Dixon (the creators) and ordered that the zombie nativity scene be taken down. The biblical scene came complete with undead Mary, Joseph, wise men and a baby Jesus in a manger. To cap things off, a spooky version of “Silent Night” played in the background with rainbow-colored lights illuminating the scene.
As you are probably aware by now, racism is still a thing (sadly) and here is yet another example of this frustrating fact. Retired Army Captain Larry Jefferson (not pictured) was hand-picked at a Santa convention to be Santa at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. He was a huge hit with children and parents. But as his popularity grew, so did the backlash. You see, Captain Jefferson is black and some people did not like the thought of a black Santa…not at all. Guess who’s getting coals for Christmas?
Pole Dancing on a Christmas Parade
A dance studio in Jacksonville North Carolina got in trouble when it featured a pole dancing float in a Christmas parade. The studio claims it was not using the poles in a seductive or suggestive manner but rather as displays of athleticism. However, on-lookers complained that the demonstration was not appropriate for a family friendly parade. One pastor was even quoted saying that he had to turn the heads of his kids to keep them from watching the float. I can’t help but wonder if he turned his head as well?
Ugly Christmas sweaters can be pretty offensive. Especially to some of us who have been gifted with the Christmas fashion sense of [insert your favorite designer’s name here]. Who am I kidding, I have no fashion sense whatsoever. I digress.
However, Hallmark really offended some people with their Christmas sweater design in 2013. Can you figure out why by looking at the picture? Hallmark changed the word “Gay” with “Fun” (the original lyrics to the song on the shirt are “Don we now our gay apparel”). The change caused many to label Hallmark as “homophobic” with some people calling for a boycott. Hallmark later apologized in a statement: “We’ve been surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed about the change of lyrics on this ornament, and we’re sorry to have caused so much concern.”
There are many versions of the big ol’ jolly man with a big red suit (that would be Santa). But probably one of the most shocking versions was put up in front of a Leesburg courthouse. A crucified, skeleton Santa (yeah, that’s not a typo) horrified residents prompting one resident to dismantle the public display. According to Jeff Heflin, Jr. of Middleburg, the skeleton Santa was meant “to depict society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy, and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season.” What do you think? Was this display too much?
Starbucks' Christmas Cups
We’ve come a long way since the Christmases of Puritan times. Nevertheless, Christmas controversies have not disappeared. Enter Starbucks.
Every year, Starbucks unveils their Christmas cups, much to the delight of everyone, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, Starbucks’ Christmas cups are one of the main Christmas controversies found on this list. Even though Starbucks has been designing Christmas cups since 1997, their cup controversies started in 2015 with Starbucks’ unveiling of their all red Christmas cup design. What was meant to be a “design that welcomes all of our stories” turned into a design that some felt excluded theirs.
Christians argued the cup was an attempt “to take Christ and Christmas off of their cups.” Ever since then, Starbucks has found a way to unintentionally piss-off this particular group of people. It’s important to note that Starbucks’ Christmas cups have been predominantly secular since their inception.