Right off the bat, I’m in trouble with the Christmas fundies because I used the word, “Holiday” instead of, “Christmas”. And this is the crux of this post.
I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, Christmas was a holiday. Here in the US it is even an offical holiday for all governments and almost all businesses. So to say, “Happy Holidays” is both accurate and inoffensive to anyone but insecure fundies who seem to think that everyone else has to revear and respect the “Christ” in Christmas.
Lets face it, Christmas, as practiced by most American, is an almost purely secular holiday that revolves much more around Santa Claus, Christmas/Holiday parties, gift-giving and over-eating, and it has been this way for well over 100 years.
For most people, the “Christ” went out of Christmas a long time ago, to be replaced with holiday shopping, family gatherings and eggnog toasts. While everyone is aware that Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth, except for the occasional pre-dinner prayer, this fact isn’t much mentioned or thought on.
In fact, historically, Christmas as a religious celebration has a spotty record in America. According to the web site, Massachusetts Travel Journal:
Outlawing the celebration of Christmas sounds a little extreme, but it happened. The ban existed as law for only 22 years, but disapproval of Christmas celebration took many more years to change. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.
The Puritans who immigrated to Massachusetts to build a new life had several reason for disliking Christmas. First of all, it reminded them of the Church of England and the old-world customs, which they were trying to escape. Second, they didn’t consider the holiday a truly religious day. December 25th wasn’t selected as the birth date of Christ until several centuries after his death.
And the site, History of Christmas has this to say about the practice of celebrating Christmas in America:
After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
Washington Irving reinvents Christmas
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?
The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.
In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status.
Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended—in fact, many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.
Before the Civil War
The North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas, as well as on the question of slavery. Many Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas; to these people the celebration of Thanksgiving was more appropriate. But in the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season. Not surprisingly, the first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.
In the years after the Civil War, Christmas traditions spread across the country. Children’s books played an important role in spreading the customs of celebrating Christmas, especially the tradition of trimmed trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Sunday school classes encouraged the celebration of Christmas. Women’s magazines were also very important in suggesting ways to decorate for the holidays, as well as how to make these decorations.
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked, and shopped for the Christmas season. Since that time, materialism, media, advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today. The traditions that we enjoy at Christmas today were invented by blending together customs from many different countries into what is considered by many to be our national holiday.
History shows that the religious celebration of Christmas was spotty at best and banned at worse. In fact, the modern concept of Christmas celebrations were “invented” by and popularized by Washington Irving.
So feel free to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” and enjoy the Christmas celebrations, even if you aren’t religious, or perhaps, especially if you aren’t religious, since the secular view of Christmas so hated by the Christan fundies is the real American tradition of Christmas.