It's Christmas, and President Trump is celebrating by repeatedly typing “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” — and by taking credit for having “led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase.”
Ah, the proverbial “war on Christmas,” in which the holiday is under attack — with even the “Merry Christmas” greeting frowned upon — and the faithful fight to defend it. And first among them: Trump.
But is Trump really the hero here? Or was he always more of a bystander — or worse?
It depends on how many Christmases we look at.
Christmas 1981: No trees allowed
In the 1980s, his political rise still decades away, Trump bought an old apartment building across the street from Central Park in New York that he hoped to tear down and rebuild as a high-rent tower.
When the longtime residents wouldn't move out voluntarily, the New York Times wrote, Trump hired a management company that essentially ran the building into the ground.
And while Trump threatened to house homeless people in the building, the management company used creative tactics that included covering windows in tin and forbidding Christmas decorations in the lobby.
It was probably the least of residents' concerns, but Trump allowed no Christmas tree in 1981, the Times wrote, nor in the next year.
Christmas 1983: “Nowhere to go for the holidays.”
After two years of what New York Magazine called a “cold war” between Trump's tenants and his managers, the Central Park building was a mess of hostility and broken appliances.
A tenant representative finally wrote to Trump's management company in 1983, asking for permission to at least put up a Christmas tree. Many of the residents “are very old and have nowhere to go,” she wrote, the magazine reported. “This will be their only chance to share in the holiday spirit.”
The company wrote back that in light of the tenants' complaints, it was “quite difficult for Management to feel that a relaxed 'holiday season spirit' relationship exists at the building.”
Moreover, a Christmas tree might raise religious-liberty concerns, it said.
But the company offered to allow the tree with some conditions — the company would be held “blameless in any claims related to the Christmas tree,” and all decorations had to comply with government regulations.
Here the accounts of Christmas 1983 somewhat diverge. New York Magazine wrote that the tenant leader signed the contract and “the Christmas tree went up, [and] the holiday spirit was saved.”
But the Times wrote that maintenance workers misunderstood the Christmas negotiations and put up a contract-less tree without permission and that Trump's manager “fumed but could do nothing.”
Christmas 1999: The Trump Tower Millennium Holiday Tree
“The Trump Tower Millennium Holiday Tree” — as described in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and news releases — was a 45-foot perforated metal, gold-coated, fiber-optic-lighted treelike structure unveiled at Trump Tower a month before the turn of the century.
No pictures of the Millennium Holiday Tree can be found, and some references describe it as a traditional Christmas tree, which Trump Tower is now known for.
It's important to note that this was several years before the “war on Christmas” joined the cultural lexicon — when Bill O'Reilly aired an exposé in 2004 on how the generic word “holiday” was supplanting traditional “Christmas” language.
It would be even longer before Trump demonstrated any real concern about the distinction.
Christmas 2009 to 2013 (as told by Trump)
From Donald Trump: Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday & a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year. Let’s think like champions in 2010!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2009
Wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday season!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2010
My new book #TimeToGetTough is the best present of the holiday season. A great gift for anyone who cares about this country.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2011
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2012
Young Entrepreneurs – the Holiday season is here but that is no excuse not to stay on top of your business prospects. Focus!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2013
The Obama Christmases
While Trump continued wishing “happy holidays” for years, his first use of the word “Christmas” on Twitter appears to have been in 2011 — shortly after he expressed interest in running for president.
Trump suggested buying his new book as a Christmas present that December, and a few days later he complained that President Barack Obama had “issued a statement for Kwanza [sic] but failed to issue one for Christmas.”
As the Associated Press noted, this was a false assertion. Obama had, like presidents before him, acknowledged the African heritage festival of Kwanzaa. But he had also wished Americans “Merry Christmas” — as he did every year during his presidency.
It is true that Obama changed the annual White House Christmas card to a more generic holiday card. But he publicly celebrated Christmas so frequently that many people have made video montages of him recognizing the holiday.
These would occasionally be shown to Trump in the 2015-2016 election, when he truly became a Christmas warrior.
Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president in 2015, Trump went to the Values Voter Summit, hoisted a Bible and said: “I believe in God. I believe in the Bible. I’m Christian. I love people.”
As The Washington Post wrote at the time, he had had some trouble convincing conservative Christian voters of this. So he elaborated in his speech:
“I love Christmas,” he said. “You go to stores now, and it doesn’t say Christmas. It says 'Happy holidays.' All over! I say, where's Christmas? I tell my wife, 'Don’t go to those stores.' I want to see Christmas! Other people can have their holidays, but Christmas is Christmas. I want to see 'Merry Christmas.' Remember the expression 'Merry Christmas'? You don't see it. You're going to see it if I'm elected.”
And sure enough, as president, Trump turned the holiday card back into a Christmas card. He retold the story of baby Jesus at the National Christmas Tree Lighting this year. His 11-year-old son appears in a red scarf in the White House's official illustrated Christmas tour book, and you can buy an official “Merry Christmas” Trump hat for $45.
Trump says “Christmas” all the time now.