At this time of year, a certain ritual occurs. This is the bemoaning of the “War on Christmas”. When he had his program on FOX, Bill O’Reilly would run segments on this topic, and it mainly regarded businesses trying to be sensitive with “Happy Holidays” and the far-left people who cared about such things until he declared that the “War on Christmas” had been won in 2016. What is not known by most, however, is that Christmas did not always have the place in our hearts it does today.
In the Colonial Era when the Puritans ruled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they legislated their religious views in a number of ways. One of these was the first public education program on American soil, which was known as the Old Deluder Satan Act so that all people could read and interpret the Bible, another was banning Christmas in 1659. At this time, the Puritans also controlled Parliament, and they had banned Christmas celebrations in 1644, resulting in pro-Christmas riots. The Puritan law in Massachusetts read thusly:
For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accountants as aforesaid, every person so offending shall pay of every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county (Tourgee).
The Puritan rationale was that celebrations of Christmas distracted from worship, was not biblically justified, and constituted idolatry given the holiday’s pagan origins. Other Christian holidays weren’t safe either, as the Puritans held that “They for whom all days are holy can have no holiday” (Tourgee). In their defense, Christmas was a much rowdier event than today, with public drunkenness and sexual debauchery being well within the norms of the celebration. This ban, however, would not last long. Christmas celebrations were restored in Britain with the monarchy under Charles II in 1660, and in 1681 celebrations were allowed again under a royally appointed governor. Christmas celebrations were still not widespread in the colonies, and New Englanders kept a Puritan view on the subject for another 150 years, discouraging the holiday’s celebration. At the time of the founding of the United States, Christmas was not observed by the government as a holiday; in 1802 Congress actually convened on that day. However, Christmas gained some national significance in 1814, when the War of 1812 was ended by the Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve. The popularity of Christmas as a holiday grew as Puritanism’s influence waned in New England and by 1840 it was accepted nationally as a day worth celebrating. Helping the holiday further was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which inspired the common greeting of “Merry Christmas” and informs much of the way we celebrate today. Finally, in 1870, Congress passed a law declaring Christmas an unpaid federal holiday, which was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Burton-Hill, C. (2014, December 19). When Christmas Carols were banned. BBC.
Raab, N. (2013, December 24). 10 Milestones In Christmas History That Might Surprise You. Forbes.
Tourgee, H. (2018, December 19). How the Puritans Banned Christmas. New England Today Living.