07 December 2012

The War on Christmas

We are quickly closing in upon the Christmas season. Many people believe that there is a war on Christmas. I've seen the governor of Rhode Island on television talking about his state's "holiday tree." A large number of Americans are put off by this point. Some Americans would like to avoid having any public displays of religion. However, the purpose of this post is not to talk about the contemporary war on Christmas.

Many Americans trace their religious heritage back to the Puritans in New England (although most Americans today would not fit into the Puritan society). What many Americans do not realize, however, is that the Puritans on both sides of the Atlantic were among the first to start a war on Christmas. During the Interregnum in England, Christmas was banned. There were no holiday trees or Christmas trees. Oliver Cromwell's attempt at a Christian theocracy thought that the holiday was too closely related to Catholic superstition. They also thought that the celebration was nowhere to be found in the Bible. Christmas feasts were replaced by Christmas fasts.

Puritans in the wilderness of New England similarly banned Christmas by legal means. A Massachusetts law actually fined citizens of the colony for celebrating Christmas. It was not until the mother country restored the Stuart monarchy and set up the Dominion of New England in 1680 that laws banning Christmas were repealed. In spite of the new legal status for the holiday, many in New England decided to celebrate quietly to avoid offending the sensibilities of the dominant Puritan cultures. It was actually after the Civil War that Christmas became an official American holiday. Therefore, the idea of a war on Christmas goes back a long way in American church history.