Let’s answer the obvious questions first:
Q: Should you buy “All-American Christmas” for your Christmas-loving, FOX-viewing family member?
A: Yes, if you’re cool with spending money on this.
Q: Should you buy this book for your Christmas-loving friend?
Q: Should you buy this book for your liberal friend who hates Christmas?
A: If you want to mess with them.
Q: Does this book contain anything controversial?
A: “All-American Christmas” is pretty much all cutesy childhood memories and family traditions. The most controversial thing in this book is a “delicious” punch recipe packed with so many different kinds of sugar it might permanently alter your brain chemistry.
Q: Is this book even good?
A: It’s alright. That depends on your definition of “good.”
Q: Why did you read this book if you’re so grumpy about it?
A: That’s a good question.
In all honesty, I did not want to read “All-American Christmas.” As much as I love accounts about Christmas traditions and the complex history of the holiday, and considering my soft spot for American folklore, I did not think “All-American Christmas” would deliver on what I wanted. The reason for this is simple: this book is a compilation of stories from TV personalities from FOX News.
Allow me to explain for those unaware or confused by my hesitation to read this book. FOX News is a news channel responsible for some of the most divisive TV rhetoric and egregious misinformation within the media world. FOX News was originally established by Rupert Murdoch as a conservative alternative to the “mainstream media” and “liberal bias,” and it stands as one of the most-watched cable news channels, averaging 2.5 million viewers in 2019.
In addition to biased reporting that pushes conservative causes, like a free-market economy and the general greatness of the Bush administration, FOX News goes out of its way to promote climate change denial and general science misinformation. FOX News contributed to low COVID-19 vaccination rates amongst its viewers, leading to many lost lives. FOX News, in my opinion, is constructing a dangerous alternate reality in which science is malleable, conspiracy theories are treated as fact, and white supremacy is no big deal.
So yeah, I didn’t really want to read this organization’s Christmas book.
However, that’s kind of the problem with a divisive society, isn’t it? An unwillingness to listen to people different from us and consider their backgrounds and perspectives? The fact that I immediately villainized a group of people without even getting to know them? Shouldn’t I at least try to read this book to get to know these people on a human level?
Even if I disagree with FOX News and think it should be off the air, the people who work for the channel are still human beings. I may not like what they stand for, but I should take a few moments to try and listen to them, which may be a step towards bridging the divide in our political ideology. To anyone reading this who’s like, “Oh my god, get off your pedestal and just tell me if the book is any good or not,” I promise that I have a point with this: I am trying to declare my bias before I give an honest review. If you think I’m an annoying socialist, you may not like what I say.
The book “All-American Christmas” was compiled by Rachel Campos-Duffy and Sean Duffy, a married couple serving as FOX News Contributors. They met while starring in a spin-off of “The Real World,” a fact that has nothing to do with the book but I thought was interesting. They also have nine kids together, which is just wild.
The anthology is divided into the following sections:
- The Joy of Giving: Featuring Dana Perino, Jesse Waters, Bret Baier, Brit Hume, and Lawrence Jones
- The Joy of Receiving: Featuring Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, John Roberts, Sandra Smith, Charles Payne, and John Rich
- The Joy of Faith: Featuring Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, Lauren Green, Geraldo Rivera, Rachel Campos-Duffy, and Sean Duffy
- The Joy of Family: Featuring Janice Dean, Steve and Peter Doocy, Bill Hemmer, Maria Bartiromo, and Emily Compagno
Before reading this book, I had heard of maybe three of these people. These commentators are not uncontroversial people. In fact, for this blog post, I compiled a list of the authors from this collection, their role at Fox News, and anything I think readers might like to know about them before diving into this book. For example, Jesse Waters recently said that single women need to get married, so we’ll vote Republican.
Even though I disagree with most of these people on several important political issues, I don’t want to suggest they’re bad people or beyond hope. Many of these individuals have incredibly impressive journalism careers that are worth praise. Some of them are willing to disagree with their coworkers on hot-button political issues and have overcome hardship to get to where they are now. Some of these people care very deeply for their families and for other people. As much as I dislike FOX news, it would be unfair for me to judge them solely based on their job without getting to know them. I did appreciate that these stories provided a brief window into their lives.
However, what I really didn’t like, and what some readers should be aware of, was how repetitive the stories became. And I don’t mean to say that all of these people were born on different cattle farms in Wyoming and talk about how awesome it is to celebrate Christmas in negative Fahrenheit conditions. Each story followed an eerily similar “you can copy my homework but change it up a bit” path.
A less cynical person may say the stories are about the joys of “faith, family and charity.” My interpretation was a little more “If I made a drinking game and took a sip based on how many times the author went out of their way to stress their humble childhoods, this book would give me alcohol poisoning.”
Was there any kind of coordination between the authors and the Duffys when these stories were being compiled? I’d really like to know the process for putting these stories together. Did a lot of them use the same ghostwriter? I’m curious if the Duffys told the other writers, “Hey guys, please try to hit on these three things:
1. Your humble origins,
2. The sheer awesomeness of Jesus,
3. How generous you are now.”
The issue I take with this format is that after the sixth story, where someone belabored growing up with “so little” and parents that “worked day and night,” it began to feel insincere. I wanted to hear a story where someone admitted, “My dad bought me a pony for Christmas when I was 7, and it was f*cking dope,” just because at least it would be honest. One contributor talked about Christmases spent golfing in Puerto Rico. That’s not my cup of hot cocoa, but I bet he made some great memories on those overly-manicured greens; so good for him. I wish at least one of these contributors had realized you don’t need to make yourselves sound like the Ingalls or the Cratchits just to make yourself more relatable.
If any of these contributors came from financially successful families, sharing that experience would be discouraged or risk alienating a loyal FOX viewer. Look, it’s awesome if you grew up knitting scarves as presents for your loved ones, but it’s also okay if you didn’t.
Almost always after the “humble origins” section of the story, the authors would feel inclined to discuss their faith. This is, you know, totally chill, considering “All-American Christmas” is a Christmas book. Still, it often felt like the book was crossing over from “celebrating the reason for the season” to “accept Christ into your life or else your life is terrible and your existence is meaningless.”
I became more frustrated with Lauren Green’s chapter, which contains so much proselytizing I was reminded of the spring break mission trips to Daytona Beach documented by Kevin Roose in “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.” Lauren Green is the Chief Religion Correspondent for FOX News, so if anyone has the right to discuss her faith in a Christmas book, it would be her. I realize that reading a book by FOX News and getting annoyed at evangelizing is like going to the beach and getting angry at the sand. But sometimes you go to the beach, and it’s like, a lot of sand.
I’ve spent an entire lifetime trying to exercise tolerance and acceptance regarding other people’s beliefs. However, reading this book reminded me that not everyone would extend that same tolerance to me.
I want to give credit to Geraldo Rivera’s story, which spoke about growing up in an interfaith household, how badly he wanted a Christmas tree, and the compromises his family had to make to honor both parents’ heritage. I liked Rivera’s story and any other story in this compilation that spoke about the conflict that can come with blending traditions.
The last element that I noticed time and time again was the “Generosity” section. This was the part in each story (and trust me, it was there in almost every story) when the author would discuss their current charitable work. The humble origins portion was one thing, but this part really got to me. I don’t relish hearing sort-of famous people talk about their selflessness, especially as there’s no way to substantiate their claims beyond demanding a peek at their tax returns.
Look, I am all for highlighting a charity or non-profit. If there is a non-profit that helped you through a difficult time, then I want to hear about it! If you really support a non-profit’s mission, then yes, shout it from the highest mountain. But, unless I want you to donate your hard-earned cash to an organization, I’m probably not going to mention it because the point of giving shouldn’t be so you can later brag about your selflessness. At the end of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge apologizes to a man seeking charity for the poor, and promises a large donation. He doesn’t then say, “and make sure you tell everyone I did it!”
I realize I may be coming across as nitpicky in my review. However, this is my honest reaction to reading this book. I found so many similarities between these stories that they became inauthentic. I didn’t want to cast doubt on every person who wrote about their stories in this book, but I suggest that FOX try and mix it up a bit more in future publishing. A future book could even have a contributor admitting to personal flaws that they want to change! Wouldn’t that be something?
There were stories that I liked. John Rich’s story about being gifted his father’s guitar, the man’s most prized possession, was incredibly sweet and relevant to Rich’s later career as a country singer. “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” may not be my jam, but maybe Rich’s daddy would have loved it. Emily Compagno intimidated me with her ability to pass the California BAR exam, work as a lawyer, and be a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders. But I loved her stories about the borderline-dangerous stunts she’s pulled off in the name of Christmas. Steve and Peter Doocy, who are father and son, have a nice chapter where they talk about their Christmas memories together, and their story may have been a highlight for me.
Although I criticized this book for its emphasis on the “Joy of Giving,” I felt that Bret Baier was sincere when discussing his ongoing relationship with the Children’s National Hospital. Baier’s son, Paul, was born with cardiac problems, necessitating many surgeries and Christmas stays in the hospital. That’s a terrifying experience for a child and their family, and I believe Baier is thankful to that hospital for what they did for his son. I also think he cares about other children who have to stay in that hospital over the holidays, and it’s nice that he uses his platform to support the hospital.
I responded best to the stories I thought contained genuine moments of warmth, self-reflection, and sincerity. “All-American Christmas” does contain these elements. Just less often than I would have liked.
So if you need a gift for your grandma who loves “The Five” and is rude to the serving staff at the Sizzler, you may want to consider this one. And if CNN or MSNBC comes out with a Christmas anthology, and you need to get your hippie aunt something next Christmas, then I promise to read it and be just as brutal in my review.