In 2011, he criticized Obama’s approach, saying on Merry Christmas Wishes Twitter that the president had “issued a statement for Kwanza but failed to issue one for Christmas.” In fact, that year Obama wished people “Merry Christmas” from his Twitter account and gave a video address with his wife in which he wished people a “Merry Christmas and happy holidays.” Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also offered greetings marking Kwanzaa, the weeklong African heritage festivities in December.
The White House said Trump will also have a statement on Kwanzaa, which the president misspelled in his tweet.
At the official lighting of the National Christmas Tree this year, Trump offered an overtly religious message, noting that “for Christians, this is a holy season.” He added that the “Christmas story begins 2000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son, and the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of God’s love for all of humanity.”
But his predecessor also made remarks grounded in Christian traditions. At his final tree lighting, Obama opened with “Merry Christmas,” and spoke about this being a time to “celebrate the birth of our Savior, as we retell the story of weary travelers, a star, shepherds, Magi.” He went on to discuss the message of the holiday, saying that it “grounds not just my family’s Christian faith but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, non-believers– Americans of all backgrounds.”
Asked if the White House thought the previous administration did not acknowledge Christmas, first lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said, “We are focused on our administration.”
Trump’s emphasis on Christmas has been welcomed by evangelical Christians who see it as evidence of his commitment to religious liberty.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Trump “has talked about it more frequently and with more intensity.”
Conservative angst over a perceived shift away from “Merry Christmas” has long percolated. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly talked about the “war on Christmas” on his show for years, highlighting businesses that opted to say “Happy Holidays.”
“Among the conservative Christians, they really do feel embattled,” said Mark Alan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Washington. “They have a sense of ‘we’re being persecuted.’ This Merry Christmas thing is part of it.”