Christmas Banned in America?
Christmas is without a doubt the most popular holiday in the United States. Not only is it a federal holiday, but almost everything in the country is closed for the holiday—even Walmart, the definition of a 24 hour store, is closed on Christmas day. Christmas decorations fill the stores and companies utilize holiday themes in their commercials. Even my non-Christian friends celebrate the holiday!
Interestingly, in the first days of colonization, Christmas didn't exist in America. It was actually banned—as in against the law—in Boston from 1659-1681.
When America separated from England, it also distanced itself from England's traditions (like Christmas). Also many of America's settlers were Protestants who wished to separate themselves from the Catholic church's pagan traditions. Christmas wasn't made a federal holiday until 1870 (that's 7 years after slavery was abolished). During the 1800's the upper class worked to reinvent the rowdy Saturnalia like festivities of England to the more peaceful, family-oriented, holiday of today. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol helped to promote that image.
A Christmas Carol
Of all the tales around Christmas, A Christmas Carol, is definitely the most popular. I can think of an episode or movie borrowing the plot from Dickens' novel for almost every children's character I think of. There are a few re-imaginings for adults, but most are for children. The overall message of the story is not to take life for granted, to give when you can (particularly on Christmas day), and to confront your past. Despite the fact the main character is brought to justice by three ghosts, this is a good message. Perhaps this is what led people back toward the holiday (which kinda reminds me of the wolf in sheep's clothing or the passage in Daniel which says that the enemy will come by peace). I'm sure Dickens just wanted people to be better people, and hopefully some people have become better people, but let's not fall down the slippery slope of believing generous behavior is only necessary during Christmas. The fact that God and the birth of Jesus is not central to the story, but rather the giving of gifts, spending time with one's family, and greed, is an indicator that it was probably the devil that cajoled Dickens into writing the novel. What he needed was a good surface message (which A Christmas Carol definitely has), to entice Americans to forget the debauchery of the European Christmas festivals and lure people back to celebrated the pagan holiday. Instead of seeing a blatant show of drunkenness and pagan tradition, this brought about the age of the "harmless" Christmas that is about family and giving—two things God would want us to appreciate and take part in, right? Suddenly Americans were not eschewing the pagan traditions, but like the Catholic church, trying to retrofit Christian beliefs and concepts to a tamer version of the holiday. In the final post I'll talk about how this view has made it so easy for the pagan traditions to infiltrate the hearts of Christians and pass themselves off as "no big deal."
Other Posts in this Series
- A&E Television Networks. "History of Christmas". History.com. 2015
- Note that with separation of Church and State, technically Christmas can’t be a federal holiday unless it isn’t a religious holiday…