Lorenz Blumenthaler is press officer for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which combats right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism in Germany.
European Focus: In recent years, a debate has raged in Germany over the naming of some markets that open during the festive period ‘winter markets’. Why are these Christmas markets, which are hardly a religious symbol, igniting a heated discussion?
Lorenz Blumenthaler: There is a right-wing narrative that is reheated every year claiming a “war on Christmas” that is allegedly driven by a supposed “Islamisation” of the west. This is reflected in the renaming, abolition, or replacement of common “traditions” which then represent gestures of submission to this “Islamisation.” However, this is an anti-Muslim conspiracy narrative that is mainly used to stir up fear of Muslims in Germany.
EF: Where did this narrative arise from?
The origin can be traced back to the U.S. In the early 20th century, car magnate Henry Ford circulated anti-semitic publications claiming that Christmas traditions were being restricted by Jews. The modern debate was largely driven by the American alt-right. Since 2004 Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly pushed this and also U.S. President Donald Trump took up the narrative during his 2015 campaign.
The “war on Christmas” fell on fertile ground within the German right. Every year, members of the far-right AfD party, in particular, try to scandalise alleged renaming campaigns. In their eyes Germany is lost when discounters sell “Winter decorations” instead of “Christmas decorations”. If taken seriously, one gets the impression that the self-declared “Christian-Jewish Occident” is defended above all on the front of Advent Calendars. The only goal of these fabricated agitations is to stir up sentiment against Muslims.
EF: The discussion around the alleged “war on Christmas” was not prominent this year. Why?
Inflation, a global pandemic, a Russian war of aggression, the energy crisis, and refugees from Ukraine – who needs a “war on Christmas” when you have all this? Probably these crises and issues offered a sufficient enough basis to spread hostile and racist ideology.