The War On Christmas–Not!

Well, there is just enough snow on the ground for today to qualify as a “White Christmas!” No doubt the folks over at Fox News would have considered the absence of snow on the ground (at least in the New England states) further evidence of the “war on Christmas” that they are so certain is being fought in this country.  But as any fan of The Daily Show knows, that “war” can be traced back to our Puritan ancestors, who actually banned the public observance of Christmas for a period of time during the mid-1600’s.

Justice Brennan discussed the anti-Christmas position of the Puritans (and several other denominations) in his dissent in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), a case upholding a city’s display of a nativity scene on public property:

The intent of the Framers with respect to the public display of nativity scenes is virtually impossible to discern primarily because the widespread celebration of Christmas did not emerge in its present form until well into the nineteenth century. Carrying a well-defined Puritan hostility to the celebration of Christ’s birth with them to the New World, the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony pursued a vigilant policy of opposition to any public celebration of the holiday.  To the Puritans, the celebration of Christmas represented a “Popish” practice lacking any foundation in Scripture. This opposition took legal form in 1659 when the Massachusetts Colony made the observance of Christmas day, “by abstinence from labor, feasting, or any other way,” an offense punishable by fine. Although the Colony eventually repealed this ban in 1681, the Puritan objection remained firm.

. . .

Many of the same religious sects that were devotedly opposed to the celebration of Christmas on purely religious grounds, were also some of the most vocal and dedicated foes of established religions in the period just prior to the Revolutionary War.  The Puritans, and later the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, generally associated the celebration of Christmas with the elaborate and, in their view, sacrilegious celebration of the holiday by the Church of England, and also with, for them, the more sinister theology of “Popery.” In the eyes of these dissenting religious sects, therefore, the groups most closely associated with established religion—the Churches of England and of Rome—were also most closely linked to the profane practice of publicly celebrating Christmas. For those who authored the Bill of Rights, it seems reasonable to suppose that the public celebration of Christmas would have been regarded as at least a sensitive matter, if not deeply controversial. As we have repeatedly observed, the Religion Clauses were intended to ensure a benign regime of competitive disorder among all denominations, so that each sect was free to vie against the others for the allegiance of its followers without state interference. See Everson v. Board of Education. The historical record, contrary to the Court’s uninformed assumption, suggests that at the very least conflicting views toward the celebration of Christmas were an important element of that competition at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

But let us not talk of religious wars on this happy day.  To those who celebrate this important day, Merry Christmas, peace on earth, and goodwill to all!



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