On this wonderful Christmas Day 2010, most of us are sitting back happy with ourselves. In a joyous festive mood. Thankful for family and friends. Pleased by gifts and food.
And we might believe that Christmas in the United States has always been such. That Christmas as we know it always existed.
Shockingly, it did not!
Let’s go back to the Puritans. Those hearty immigrants from England to the shores of Massachusetts. Those who gave us Thanksgiving.
Christmas they did not give to us. In fact, they took Christmas away from us. The earliest Scrooges of record!
From 1659 to 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. By the Puritans. They believed that Christmas was not consistent with their Puritan ideas and religious reforms. So one of their acts was to abolish Christmas!
Christmas remained a no-no through the American Revolution. The English influence in the colonies prevailed. Christmas could not regain its foothold.
A few years after the Revolution, the colonists, rid of the English influence, started celebrating Christmas. But it was not Christmas as we know it.
The early 1800s found Christmas being celebrated in a bit of a rowdy fashion. Much like Mardi Gras and Fantasy Fest.
Then came a couple of books which influenced the situation.
The first was by Washington Irving. In 1809, he wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. It portrayed Christmas as a peaceful loving holiday. Many attribute Irving’s novel as setting the mood for present day Christmas.
Irving actually created with words Christmas Day as we know and celebrate it. He mentally conceived his concept of Christmas and wrote it on paper. Christmas to that point had not been as he portrayed it.
About the same time, there was another writing. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This, too, captured the American imagination.
During the 1830s, several southern states legalized December 25 Christmas Day as a legal holiday. The first was Alabama in 1836.
The South continued to favor and celebrate Christmas up to the time of the Civil War. Whereas the North basically paid little attention to the day. Christmas had become a Southern thing.
Now comes the Civil War. Lincoln wanted to demoralize the Confederate troops. He wanted to show that the South’s Santa Claus was on the side of the North. He authorized a famous artist late in 1862 to do a drawing of Santa Claus watching over Union troops. The picture was the front cover on January 3, 1863 of a prominent national magazine. It was sort of God is on our side thing. Some believe it achieved Lincoln’s desired effect.
President Ulysses S. Grant is given credit for making Christmas a national holiday. I question the accuracy of the representation. In 1870 Grant signed a bill into law regarding Christmas Day. The new law read that Christmas “…shall be a holiday within the District of Columbia.”
The District of Columbia is not the whole of the United States. However, Grant is usually given credit for making Christmas a national holiday by that act.
The last state to legalize Christmas as a legal holiday was Oklahoma in 1907.
I suspect that it was the combination of Grant’s signing regarding the District of Columbia and all of the states legalizing the holiday that finally made Christmas Day a national holiday.
Christmas Day received a further boost by the 1897 editorial in the Sun of New York. We all know it. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Christmas was practiced and recognized as a holiday through World War II. For whatever reason, it received its most gigantic step forward recognition and celebration wise following World War II. Everyone got into the act after the war! Maybe because people were happy and grateful to have won.
Such is the story of the legalization of Christmas Day.