In the poster for Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, a smirking Kirk Cameron—a hint of the 80 minutes of smugness to come—wields an enormous candy cane and clutches a glowing orb that contains a manger scene (this flaming ball is ostensibly Christmas). Gifts, ornaments, and hundred-dollar bills fly all around. As the tagline commands, Kirk Cameron is here to put the Christ back in Christmas.
“I love Christmas,” he begins in the film, smiling in an armchair. A department store piano melody plays in the background while he admires everything he can see. He loves the cookies, the crackling fire, the presents, the stockings, the Christmas tree, the fudge, the lights, and the hot chocolate. “It’s even a great time for growing out the winter beard!” he says.
After telling us more things that he loves—but especially hot chocolate—Cameron reveals the real reason we’re here. “Have you noticed there are some people who would love to put a big wet blanket on all of this?” he asks. “They don’t want us to love Christmas.”
What kind of abominable killjoy would be against loving presents and cookies? Atheists? Satanists? Gays?
No. In fact, the chief complaint of these holiday haters, according to Cameron, is that Christmas traditions from the tree to baby Jesus’s birthday, to Santa himself just aren’t biblical. “What are they going to do next?” he asks. “Tell us hot chocolate is bad? That the Druids invented it?”
And so, we learn first, Christianity’s poster boy is a serious cocoa fan, and second, Kirk Cameron hasn’t come to save Christmas from the obvious heathens—he’s rescuing it from other Christians.
Culture warriors like Bill O’Reilly and the gang at Fox News have long warned anyone who will listen that Christmas is under attack. Secularists, they say, inspired by overzealous local governments and led into battle by the ACLU (the official sponsor of the war on Christmas) have for over a decade fought to silence Christian carolers, outlaw manger scenes, and even rebrand beloved conifers as “holiday trees.” But they’ve completely overlooked the threat of an insider attack.
Who better to save Jesus’s birthday, from enemies both foreign and domestic than Growing Pains heartthrob, evangelist, and habitual firebrand, Kirk Cameron?
The other star of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is the unimaginatively named Christian White. Played by Darren Doane (also the film’s writer/director), White “represents the typical white Christian male and he’s got a bad case of religious bah humbugs,” Cameron told The Blaze.
The film’s plot revolves around White’s bad behavior at his wife’s Christmas party. He’s sullen and rude to other guests, leaving one high-fiving Pentecostal hanging. Ten minutes in and he’s so disgusted with Christmas—“the phony smiles,” “the bratty kids,” “the pretense and obligation,” ‘the commercialism”—he spends the evening sitting in his car in protest.
So Cameron, the hero and star of this Kirk Cameron joint, and a dutiful brother-in-law if there was one, leaves the party and his steaming mug of cocoa to counsel White from the passenger’s seat. His advice is simple: stop spoiling Christmas for the rest of us. “Guess what?” Cameron says, “It’s all about Jesus.”
Then one by one, Cameron knocks down White’s arguments with creative historical reenactments and expedient Bible reading. It gets a little weedy here, but for the highlights: Cameron addresses contentious subjects like the day of Jesus’s birth (he hints it’s the 25th, though most scholars disagree); decides Santa is “the man,” because St. Nicholas punched a heretic, making the jolly gift-giver “the defender of the faith” disgruntled Christians are looking for; and dismisses the pagan origins of traditions like Christmas trees with the explanation that God made trees in the first place and decorated a space with one once, plus the cross was made from wood, so…
Cameron’s habit of reclaiming everything for his particular brand of Christianity is convenient, but it isn’t new. In 2009, he distributed edited versions of The Origin of Species on college campuses, with a new introduction that questioned evolution and labeled Darwin a Nazi and misogynist. In 2012, he released Monumental, a documentary road trip where he retraced the Pilgrim’s steps to find unsurprisingly that the Founding Fathers not only were hardcore Christians (even Jefferson!), but that the health of the nation depends on a return to those roots.
The reconstruction in Saving Christmas is a lot easier to swallow for non-Christians because most accept that the holiday is a mash-up of traditions that has a religious meaning for the majority who celebrate now. And the meaning of the film—that fundamentalists should lighten up—is welcome, if unexpected from the erstwhile teen dream of Tiger Beat reader worship, better-known these days for his principled stances on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. (In January, he railed against a televised mass wedding that singled the Grammy’s “all-out assault on the traditional family.” And he stood by former U.S. Representative Todd “legitimate rape” Aiken when other republicans called for him to drop out of the Missouri race in 2012.)
But this movie isn’t for non-believers. It’s preaching to a choir, one that will doubtless find some good rollicking fun in the junior-high humor of a dub-stepping Santa, or scenes with party guests played by Raphi Henley and David Shannon. The pair riff on pink slime, the New World Order, and even the War on Christmas™. “I saw it on Fox News, you know it’s true,” one says.
Still, you can’t please everyone. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas will undoubtedly alienate a sizeable group of Christians who choose not to celebrate the holiday. Historically, the Puritans banned Christmas from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659. But they weren’t alone: Quakers, Separatists, and Baptists also opted out citing the lack of any order in the Bible to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the pagan origins of many of the traditions.
Many Christians feel similarly today. Doug Wilson, author of God Rest Ye Merry, which Cameron called “my favorite book on why we should celebrate Christmas,” noted the controversy in his review of the film. “This is not about saving Christmas from the secularists, but rather from overly conscientious Christians,” Wilson writes. “This is not about saving Christmas from ‘them,’ but rather from ‘us’…I expect a pretty big ruckus.”
It looks like one has already begun. Though most people haven’t seen the film (it opens today in 400 U.S. theatres), some have already written about their concerns on Christian blogs and on Twitter. It stands to reason the controversy will swell after the release.
Sunny Shell, a blogger for Christian Post says the movie “belittles Christians.” “It’s marketed as a movie that will ‘blow atheists minds.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anything to do with that,” Shell tells me. “It’s all about making fun of current Christians. If there is a war, it’s Christian on Christian. If you don’t believe exactly the way that Kirk Cameron and his group believe then you’re not a very good or learned or faithful Christian, you’re legalistic, or you don’t live in grace. And that’s awful. That’s not why Christ saved us, so we could go around telling everybody we’re better than they are.”
Shell says she spoke with Cameron, who when asked for a Bible verse to support his claims, said, “Well, I’d rather not tell you because it’s in the movie and I want you to see the movie.”
Multiple requests for comment from Cameron were denied by his representative.
Saving Christmas filmmaker Doane responded on Twitter to Shell’s charge that the film makes claims not found in the Bible (she has not yet seen the film). Doane tweeted, “the film does make fun of Wannabe Berean unimaginative Christians who need to lighten up.”
At an early screening at Liberty University, a Saving Christmas co-producer, one student left with a new outlook. “There was a lot of stuff that I had never really thought about before,” freshman Thomas Long said. “There are a lot of people back home that are kind of legalistic about Christmas …I will try to take (the film’s message) back home.”
So maybe the movie sways more conservative Christians to put up a tree and buy a few presents. The real Christmas miracle is that non-believers have escaped the focus of Kirk Cameron’s latest cinematic conniption. With Saving Christmas, Cameron manages to piss off the only group left to offend: his own.