Monday, November 24, 2008

Who Started the War on Christmas

Every year, about this time, we are hit with two things - Christmas and the War on Christmas - generally from the same 'side'. The Comedy Central FoxNews pundit, Bill O'Reilly, has made it his mission to make a war on the war on Christmas, whether there is such an animal is of no consequence to him. (More than likely, the perceived War on Christmas is the actual 'war' on demonstrations of religion on the public square, serving as a confluence of political forces, left and right.) Further, it would most likely not matter to Mr. O'Reilly that the original war on Christmas was began by the Religious Right and that Americans did not celebrate Christmas until the middle of the 19th century, a generation or two after the founding of the Republic and centuries after the first colonies. Nor, I doubt, would it cross his mind that the long standing Christmas traditions were but recently invented, and that Christmas has been historically derided as a 'popish' holiday.

The history of Christmas in this country - that eternally standard holiday, from ages and ages hence - does not date from the American Creation, but instead from fictional accounts with a need for historical revision to some fantasy ideal of English and Dutch traditions which warmed the heart. As a matter of fact the first Congress under the new Constitution was in session on Christmas day, 1789; it was not until 1870 that President Grant actually declared Christmas a Federal holiday. The idea that Christmas as a tradition - American, for the topic of this post - more than a century or two old is laughable, and thus the idea that it is something to wage war for or against is equally humorous.

Christmas was banned in England by the Presbyterian Oliver Cromwell, during the English Interregnum. Cromwellian England saw the Puritans thrive, but it was here in the colonies that the more orthodox Puritans entrenched themselves. It was the Catholics, Episcopals and Lutherans that celebrated Christmas in the colonies (later States), as it had long been a part of their feast days, as opposed to the anti-Roman Baptists and Presbyterians.

Christmas in the colonies was very different from modern day celebrations. It consisted of worship, dinner, entertainments, and maybe a few social calls, but it was not something that was near and dear to the hearts of the American colonists. Philip Vickers Fithian's (a Presbyterian minister and missionary) December 18, 1773, diary entry about exciting holiday events mentions: "the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments..." seemingly excluded activities for children as well as any mention of religious events. According to Steven Mintz, in Massachusetts there was a five shilling fine for celebrating the holiday while in Virginia and Maryland, it simply wasn't celebrated. As time progressed, and the puritanical hold relaxed, Christmas became a 'rowdy drunken street carnival, a raucous combination of Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Mardi Gras.' The poor, as it was in England (figgy pudding), would find ways into the homes of the rich, demanding food, drink, and money. A city police force was instituted in 1828 after a particularly violent Christmas riot in New York City.

As we know, during the Battle of Trent, the German mercenaries were in the midst of their traditional celebrations when the American colonists attacked. This was not something new - to have Christmas as a small celebration, and considered just another day. The present Christmas customs are derived from a wide array of inspirations further derived from the immigrants who brought their own culture to this land. Most of the ways Americans celebrate the midwinter holiday came about in the nineteenth century, as the importance of Christmas increased.

In 1621, a mild conflict arose when some newcomers had to be confronted over their use of the day:

On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most part of this new company excused themselves and said that it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, they found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their implements and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep their houses; but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (Samuel Eliot Morison, ed.; New York: Alfred Knopf, 1979), p. 97. )

The idea of Christmas as a sacred national holiday began to pick up steam with fictional poems and stories first published in the 19th century (and familiar to many Americans today. It was reinvented from raucous carnival holiday (Think figgy pudding - where if the hearer did not response positively to the carol, their could be violence and bodily harm.) into a family-centered day of peace, warmth and longing for years gone by - which generally never occurred. The early 19th century saw a great change in the traditional American landscape. In response to immigration, among other things, the Know Nothing Party was founded to stem the tide of the increasing control of Rome and the Masons (via Irish Catholic Immigration, among others) over the young country by appealing to nativism. Although the Know Nothing Party quickly failed, it brought to light the hidden fears of many Americans - that they and their traditions were under attack by 'others'.

From wiki

Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to re-focus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one that was focused on the happiness of children. He notes that there was deliberate effort to prevent the children from becoming greedy in response.[59]

The riot, loss of a perceived hegemony and traditions, and the general direction of the country cumulated in the American populace's adopting of the Christmas tradition, or at the very least helped the American populace rediscover ancient traditions. Admittedly, however, they adopted for these traditions works written a half a generation before. In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of an English Christmas featuring a squire who invited the peasants into his manor for the holiday. In contrast to the problems that were clearly seen at Christmas - which were thrown open with the New York Christmas Day riot - the two groups mingled effortlessly. Irving presented Christmas as a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving pictured his groups as celebrating “ancient customs.” The history of Irving does not allow for Irving to have actually attend an event like this, but does allow for a certain amount of poetic license to invent a tradition.

As a side note, Irving is noted for his laments that the Americans had no heroes and traditions.

We cannot forget as well Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, written in 1843. It expressed the deep class divide which suddenly dissipated at Christmas. Thomas Hood, and English poet, said, 'If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease.' Historians attribute a redefinition of Christmas to Dickens' work of prose.

A fellow New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore (a slave holder and a Presbyterian), brought about a tradition large enough to span the globe, in a matter of 56 lines. He is thought to have written the most famous Christmas poem of all time, A Visit from St. Nicolas (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas"). Of course, much is owed again to Washington Irving and his History of New York, (1809). Sinterklaas was made an American tradition named "Santa Claus" but lost his bishop's apparel (He began not as a creation of pen and parchment, but as an actual Saint in the Roman/Orthodox tradition). He was having some fun at the Dutch, but Moore seemed to miss that as he brought St. Nicholas into the American mainstream. Santa would later find himself as a piece of Union propaganda against the Confederacy as a drawing featuring Santa and Union soldiers was circulated in Harper's Weekly (1863). Granted, Santa Clause was not merely an American creation (with the English variation - Father Christmas - come some time before), but it was the Americans which developed the legend into a true Christmas tradition, albeit some 1500 years after St. Nicholas lived and a few centuries after the discovery of the New World.

According to Steve Mintz,

The first painting of St. Nicholas by an American artist did not appear until 1837. In the early days, Santa Claus didn't necessary give children presents; he was often pictured holding a birch rod in his hands, and he punished children with his gift of a whipping. In 1839, there was a Broadway production: Santaclaus: Or, The Orgies of St. Nicholas.

In connection with Santa Clause, gift giving at Christmas was inherited from the Germans and the Dutch, as it was originally on New Year's which gifts were given. Cash, books, and sweets in small quantities were given by masters or parents to dependents, whether slaves, servants, apprentices, or children. It seems to have worked in only one direction: children and others did not give gifts to their superiors. Along with Santa, the idea of gift-giving developed long after the American founding, and long, long after the origins of Christmas.

It may be said that the Religious Right was the first to wage a war on Christ, when in 17th century England, after the beheading of the King, Cromwell became a dictator and was led to outlaw Christmas because of the 'pagan traditions', spurred on by the Puritan forces that supported his rule. Across the Atlantic, the Puritans essentially outlawed Christmas and kept it so for several centuries, until commercialism invented a holiday.

The Swiss Calvinists banned Christmas in Geneva and with the spread of Presbyterianism, Scotland would follow their lead in 1583. The Register of Ministers in Geneva (1546) records a list of "faults which contravene the Reformation."(Phillip E. Hughes, ed. and trans., The Register of the Company of Pastors in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), p. 56) Among the directives regarding "Superstitions" is the following: "Those who observe Romish festivals or fasts shall only be reprimanded, unless they remain obstinately rebellious. " In personal correspondence with John Haller, a pastor in Berne, Calvin writes, "Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord's day." He added, "If I had got my choice, I should not have decided in favor of what has now been agreed upon." (Letters of John Calvin (Jules Bonnet, ed.; rpt. New York: Burt Franklin, 1972), Vol. 2, pp. 288-89.)

Scotland's own John Knox followed the lead of Calvin and Geneva with the regulative principle, which forbade anything not in Scripture. In 1560, Knox wrote his First Book of Discipline, which contained the statement,

Lest upon this our generality ungodly men take occasion to cavil, this we add for explication. By preaching of the Evangel, we understand not only the Scriptures of the New Testament, but also of the Old; to wit, the Law, Prophets, and Histories, in which Christ Jesus is no less contained in figure, than we have him now expressed in verity. And, therefore, with the Apostle, we affirm that "all Scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove, and to exhort." In which Books of Old and New Testaments we affirm that all things necessary for the instruction of the Kirk, and to make the man of God perfect, are contained and sufficiently expressed.

By contrary Doctrine, we understand whatsoever men, by Laws, Councils, or Constitutions have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandment of God's word: such as be vows of chastity, foreswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparels, to the superstitious observation of fasting days, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead; and keeping of holy days of certain Saints commanded by men, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the Feasts (as they term them) of Apostles, Martyrs, Virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our Lady. Which things, because in God's scriptures they neither have commandment nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realm; affirming further, that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abominations ought not to escape the punishment of the Civil Magistrate. (>Knox's History, Vol. 2, p. 281. Cf. John Knox, Works (David Laing, ed.; Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895), Vol. ii, p. 190.)

In response to a letter from Theodore Beza to the Scottish Assembly concerning the Second Helvetic Confession, the Assembly replied,

scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession concerning the "festival of our Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Ghost upon his disciples," that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles prescribed ( In Knox, Works, Vol. vi, pp. 547-48. The same position is expressed in the Second Scotch Confession (1580), which rejects the "dedicating of kirks, altars, days." )

As late as 1835, Samuel Miller, the Moderator of the Presbyterians in the United States, used the regulative principle to reject Christmas and Easter as Romish holidays. Initially, he notes the regulative principle regarding worship: "the Scriptures being the only infallible rule of faith and practice, no rite or ceremony ought to have a place in the public worship of God, which is not warranted in Scripture, either by direct precept or example, or by good and sufficient inference." Not only does the celebration of non-biblical holidays lack a scriptural foundation, he says, but the scriptures "positively discountenance it" (Miller, pp. 65, 74. ).

As Amy McNeese writes, in an article first published in the Church of Scotland magazine, Life & Work, an historical account of the Scottish ban on Christmas that only was lifted in the 1950's:

"For almost 400 years, Christmas was banned in Scotland. At the height of the Reformation, in 1583, when anything smacking of Catholicism and idolatrous excess was thrown out with contempt, Christmas and all its trappings was wiped off the official calendar...

...Reinforced by the hard arm of the law, this was a ban that had bite...
This was an age when religious belief could mean the difference between life and a very nasty death....

Scottish Presbyterians, when called on for support by the Puritans of the English Parliament in 1644, did so on the understanding that their allies would in exchange impose the ban on Christmas. For over a decade traditional English Christmas festivities were prohibited

From Scotland, the ban on Christmas spread briefly, as Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army brought the Cromwellian revolution to England. Cromwell's Puritans banned Christmas in England for about a decade but the measure was unpopular. Feelings among pro and anti Christmas advocates ran strong and, after a second enforcement act against Christmas was passed by the English Parliament in 1647,

Again the people rebelled, this time so forcefully that armed officers had to be sent to remove evergreens decorating St Margaret's Church, near the English Parliament itself. Rioting broke out in London, Kent, Oxford, Canterbury and Ipswich, in which several people were killed. A petition with more than 10,000 signatures demanded either the restoration of Christmas or else the king back on the throne...

Even after the bans were revoked in England in 1660, Puritans and other Non-Conformists “ranted against Anti-Christ’s-masse and those Masse-mongers and Papists who observe it”, and were commonly known to “inveigh against New Year gifts and evergreens, or to attack the Pope by refusing to eat plum-broth; or to condemn those who ate mince-pies as Papists and idolaters”. There was even objection to the word Christmas because it incorporated the Popish ‘mass’.

These attitudes were carried to the New World by English Puritans, Quakers, Baptists and Scottish Presbyterians. In America, reprisals were as harsh here as back in Scotland. In Massachusetts a five-shilling penalty was imposed on anyone found feasting or shirking work on Christmas Day, and in 1621 the Governor of Plymouth Colony reprimanded some “lusty young men” whom he found on Christmas “pitching ye barr, and some playing at stoole-ball and such like sports”.

A hundred years later the Quakers were still ranting against the Christmas pie as “an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon, an hodge podge of superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his works”.

It is a historical rumor that the Cromwellian government was brought down by Christmas as many English men demanded either Christmas or the King.

The idea that Christians and Christmas celebrants were being warred upon was not invented by Mr. O'Reilly, but by a small tract that still haunts the world.

From here. (The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem)

And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards. And even in this business one comes upon that same policy of declaring Anti-Semitic everything that is Christian. If Rabbi Coffey says the New Testament is the most Anti-Semitic book ever written, what must be the judgement on an Easter card that is truly an Easter card?

By large, it is one of the most anti-semitic tract ever written and still serves as a starting point to attempted genocide. It was published in 1921

The Christian Crusade, founded by a father of the Christian Right - Billy James Hargis, was heavily Christian nationalist, reminiscent of Dominionism (Rousas John Rushdoony), often used the 'war on Christmas' as a bait for the American left, forgetting that the true, historical War on Christmas was a creation of the Protestant right.

According to Billy James Hargis' in 1960 "Crusader" article which was published before the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was the 'egg-headed socialists and atheists that wished to ban Christmas.' He reports that in 1957, New Jersey, and some cities in California and Illinois had outlawed Christmas, even to the point of denying the right to observe the birth of Christ. He blamed Communists for taking away this historic tradition - historic to Christians and Americans. Of course, the idea of a family Christmas as a timeless and American tradition, essential to the Republic, was invented barely a century and a half ago. The idea that Christmas is under attack - the Christmas that is upheld as an American Tradition, and enshrined in the Constitution - is an idea that predates Bill O' Reilly and was essentially initiated by anti-Semites and carried along into the 1960's by those who waged the 'war' against the take over of the United States by 'godless Communists'. In other words, it was a tool of fear used against others to gain power.

More than likely, the 'war on Christmas' is simply a desire by some to end the public demonstrations of religion on the public square, but if there was a war on Christmas, then it has its roots in the Reformation era Religious Right which lost the war to time and commercialism.

34 comments:

J. L. Watts said...

Hope this is an okay topic - whether you agree with the premise or not - to post.

Pinky said...

.
My grandmother was born in 1865.
.
She told me that my great grandparents gave the children oranges for Christmas.
.
I remember getting the same present, an 8" tall chalk figure of Santa Claus putting a leg in a chimney, each year during the middle of the Great Depression. The Christmas Season was kicked off starting in the late 1930s with the sale of Christmas Stamps by the T.B. Association.
.
I have vivid recollections of the 1950s and up regarding the troubles about Christmas. Mostly, they had to do with stores using the word, Xmas, in advertisements and Christmas displays.
.
"Put Christ Back in Christmas" was the first popular bumper sticker in my memory.

J. L. Watts said...

1865...seems about right. Christmas was obviously a recognized holiday by then has Grant declared it a Federal holiday in 1870, yet, it was still not a holiday recognized by the Founders with the importance placed on it by the modern conservative movement.

Brian Tubbs said...

J.L., to the extent that you point out Christmas wasn't celebrated during America's founding era (to the wide extent it is today) and that many religious conservatives OPPOSED Christmas in the early days, this is a worthy post.

But you're too dismissive and (at times) inflammatory in this post. There are quite a few Christians (and, for that matter, non-Christians) who genuinely object to efforts by some today to stamp out any reference to Christ during the Christmas season. It's not comical to point this out. It's factual.

J. L. Watts said...

Brian, what parts were inflammatory? My main purpose was to show that the hallowed tradition held by many today was not held by the founding society of this country which historical had opposed Christmas - granted I should have gone into more of the fact that for many Christmas represented a pagan festival more than the birth of Christ (Calvin, Knox).

Tom Van Dyke said...

What was inflammatory was linking those who believe there's a war on Christmas with anti-Semitism.

Since Christmas was banned by an unholy Cromwellian alliance of church and state, it seems to me it's unAmerican and unpatriotic NOT to celebrate it, as a flip of the bird to those dreary power-mad Calvinists and an expression of the First Amendment right to free expression of religion. Even you atheists---jump on in just for the symbolism.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and God bless the USA!

Jonathan Rowe said...

Me personally I love America's pagan roots and happily wish everyone a groovy "Winter Solstice" and encourage merrily engaging in pagan delights but would never wish a Happy Kwanzaa given the founder of such was a racist fraud. Multiculturalism only goes so far with me.

J. L. Watts said...

I know more tied those who see the mythical war on Christmas to anti-Semitism than I did the same people to McCarthyism. My point there was to show that people in the past have used it to wage a war of fear against the others, as the Know Nothing Party did (without the war on Christmas). However, if you feel that I did, than forgive me for not making my point clearer. That was not my intention.

I guess when you put the celebration in those terms, I guess I might even celebrate it this year myself.

bpabbott said...

@J.L.Watts

Nice post. I enjoyed it.

FWIW, I found nothing inflammatory about it. Given the paranoia that I so often infer in the words and persona of many vocal Christians, you're direct, honest, and genuine approach is very refreshing.

I look forward to more posts!

In the meantime ... perhaps I'll spend some time browsing your blog.

Thanks

bpabbott said...

@J.L.Watts

Nice post. I enjoyed it.

FWIW, I found nothing inflammatory about it. Given the paranoia that I so often infer in the words and persona of many vocal Christians, you're direct, honest, and genuine approach is very refreshing.

I look forward to more posts!

In the meantime ... perhaps I'll spend some time browsing your blog.

Thanks

J. L. Watts said...

Thanks.

Pinky said...

.
Duh, Happy Holidays, Folks.
.

Kristo Miettinen said...

The history of celebration (and resistance thereto) of Christmas is a good topic in its own right, but the tie to the current "war on Christmas" is overreaching, to say the least.

The campaign against Christmas is real, though largely harmless. It just reminds us that we all have crosses to bear, and our modern ones are nothing compared to those of bygone eras (and those in other countries even today).

Brad Hart said...

An excellent post, Mr. Watts. You have obviously done your homework and I enjoyed your prose.

I think it is important for us to also recognize the ancient PAGAN roots of the Christmas celebration. As most of us know, the roots of Christmas go back much further than the Puritans. The Roman holiday of Saturnalia contained a number of pagan celebrations that have now been incorporated into our Christmas season.

As for the "war" on Christmas, I think both the religious right and the secularists have a point. Obviously the primary reason for celebrating Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Jesus -- even though the date of Dec. 25th is historically inaccurate. With that said, I think that is it wrong for people to "attack" the celebration of Christmas, regardless of its roots. After all, virtually every holy holiday in almost any religion can be attacked for its historical inaccuracy, etc. For example, the meaning behind the Muslim Haaj to Mecca, in which the devout circle the Kaaba, has a number of historical inaccuracies. To simply deny someone the right to worship a holiday for these reasons just doesn't sit well with me.

Sure, the Christmas season is nothing more than a conglomeration of pagan and foreign beliefs, customs, etc. However, this does not downplay the importance of Christ's birth for the devout. As most Christians are fond of pointing out, Christmas is not about Santa Clause, toys, shopping, Christmas trees, etc. In this sense, I think both the skeptic and the devout Christian will agree. All of these things demean the TRUE meaning of Christmas.

So, even though the majority of the traditions and celebrations surrounding Christmas are nothing more than "throwbacks" to ancient pagan revelry, the true meaning of Christmas is not lost on the devout believer of Christ. For this reason alone I think it would be foolish to eliminate or downplay the importance of this holiday.

J. L. Watts said...

@Brad,

Prose? Thank you, kind sir, as my wife detests my writing style.

I don't mean to say that the observance of the holiday - whether historical or fantasy - should be downplayed, but as we approach this Christmas, like many before, we find that a certain political sector who, like other weapons in their arsenal, use this as a means to an end - to bait the American Left as godless liberals, when in fact the first 'warriors' - whether right or wrong - was the fare Right themselves.

Further, this fits into my overall aim of showing that many of the 'Christian' traditions of this equally air-quoted nation have recently been revised or invented.

Tom Van Dyke said...

we find that a certain political sector who, like other weapons in their arsenal, use this as a means to an end - to bait the American Left as godless liberals...

Hmmm. I've come to see it as just the other way around. For a hundred years or so, observing Christmas in America was relatively uncontroversial. A nice mellow cheery Charles Dickens kinda thing. Seems to me it wasn't the "certain politcal sector" you refer to---some unnnamed Christian religious Right---who started the controversy.

So your history of Christmas in America was quite good Mr. Watts---closely paralleling what we find in the Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_controversy

But if you have an original thought or argument that surpasses the encyclopedic banality of the Wikipedia, then please make it, as it's not yet in evidence. You obviously have an agenda and that's OK, but you left your case at home. Surely you can do better than Bah, humbug. So far you're as dreary as a Puritan and as charmless as a Dickensian miser.

Jim Sweeney said...

A fun piece. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Irish immigrants were particularly insistent upon celebrating Christmas, although I have no doubt that the Germans were equally ardent (just like the hungover Hessians Washington surprised at Trent[on]).

The Scots more or less transferred their celebration to Hogmanay (New Year's Eve).

The cards I send out read "Happy Solstice and Merry Perihelion", but we still put up lights, lavishly decorate a tree, lay out a creche, sing carols and so forth. It's Isaac Newton's birthday, after all!

J. L. Watts said...

@Tom,

Christmas that important to you, Tom, that the truth that it is a created holiday - traditional for not more than a century and a half - is something to dismiss? What's next, attacking my Christianity because I see Christmas as a secular holiday (although with attempted roots into Christian practices?)? Tom, tisk, tisk.


And frankly, the Puritans might have had the best idea concerning these holidays, among other thing. And how did you know who my favorite Dickens' character is?

Happy Holidays, Tom.

@Jim - I would say that the Irish insistence came from the Catholicism that they brought with them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I respect the theological differences when it comes to Christmas, and was already aware of them, thank you. Truth is fine.

It's the gratuitous slags at the "Christian Right" I can live without. The respect door swings both ways, my friend. The antipathy toward Christmas in "some political sectors" is borne of an anti-religious or a political animus [or both], not the rantings of Henry Ford and that's a fact. It's become clever to wish a Happy Saturnalia or whatever, but there's a sneer behind the smile.

Brad Hart said...

To be honest, I thing the "gratuitous slangs" go both ways. Yes, the Christian right gets bashed quite regularly by leftist hacks. However, liberal, left wing, secularists (whatever you want to label them) are just as regularly the recipients of blatant attacks as well. This is a two-edged sword.

That's why it is best to be an undecided moderate fence sitter =).

When it comes to the post itself, I commend you, Mr. Watts for a well-written piece that has inspired some good discussion. This is exactly the kind of material I enjoy, even when I don't always agree with it.

Pinky said...

.
FWIW, I think Strauss would say this is a continuation of the 2,000 year old argument between Jerusalem and Athens.
.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Brad, do the "gratuitous slags" go both ways on this blog? And even if they did, does that give the green light for slagging away?

Whether they go two ways or one, they should stop. This was Tom's point. Yet you seem to disagree?

To those who think that the campaign against Christmas is just propaganda, I would be interested in hearing about what decorations are up in the hallways of a public elementary school in your district. In our school district, we have a regular "holiday concert", in which the parents of middle schoolers are serenaded for two hours with songs about Halloween, Eid, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, native American spiritualism, Druidic odes to solistice, and every other fall/winter related spiritual event, with the very notable exception of Christmas.

That's policy. Not that I'm complaining; my kids take it all in stride, with their juvenile faith undamped. I'm just saying that for those of you who think there is no campaign against Christmas, visit a public school.

Brad Hart said...

Kristo:

No...I am not in disagreement with Tom at all. In fact, I think he makes a very good point. And yes, I too believe that just because "gratuitous slang" goes both ways doesn't mean it is right. But alas, such is the world of politics.

Brad Hart said...

And such is the world of history, religion, and government for that matter.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Brad an examination of this blog's archives indicates---IMO, of course---that one side of the sword has a far sharper edge, and one that's weilded far more often.

The facts about attitudes of the Puritans and the Founders toward observing Christmas were interesting and relevant, albeit not terribly probative.

Puerile insults of Bill O'Reilly, Henry Ford's anti-Semitism, and the contemporary "war on Christmas" are all outside the purview of this blog. Even still, I love a good and honest argument, but when a post we feature on our mainpage sinks below that standard, "truth," which we all love, obliges that that be pointed out. Innuendo is not argument.

The "war on Christmas" was a real phenomenon, see Lynch v. Donnelly [1984] and the NYC school system banning nativity scenes in 2002, both of which Mr. Watts left out of his essay.

And although, the "war" is largely quiescent, perhaps due to O'Reilly's efforts, there are still humbugs who want to spoil everyone's fun:

http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/11/florida-gulf-co.html

J. L. Watts said...

I was not attempting to slag anyone, but it seems that I have. I will attempt to explain things a bit better next time. My point about comparing the Religious Right's war to defend Christmas was to point out the difference between the RR past and present. I also used the RR of less than a century ago to show that some of the foundation was vitriolic hatred of one group or another, and used Christmas as a battleground, when in fact Christmas traditions in the United States - at least as we hold them now - is much younger than the version of Federalism which we practice.

I did mention the (although briefly) attacks by those that are the natural opponents to Christmas but I would still categorize them as opposition to displays of religion on the public squire.

Tom, I am sorry that you understood them as slag, and for that I regret it. I will attempt to be less inflammatory next time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We're cool, J.L. Rock on. I like good and honest arguments and respect them even when I don't agree. I don't learn anything when it's what I already want to hear, and there's much about the Founding that will forever remain simply food for thought.

Your most interesting claim was that Congress was in session on December 25, 1789. I can't find independent confirmation for that. I don't doubt you, but confirmation would solidify your thesis. Rest assured I check and double-check my own claims on such matters. I'm surprised at how often my memory, impressions or even my source is wrong. This nailing-down-the-truth thing is damned tricky, as poor David Barton will attest.

But rest assured, I take your claims seriously, as I hit the internet to find out whether Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, not to undercut you or try to prove you wrong, but to prove you right. It's a good argument, if true.

bpabbott said...

Another perspective regarding the "war on Christmas". It isn't about Christ at all, It Is About Reducing Isolation.

Pinky said...

.
I guess the readers can shake it any way they like; but, for me it doesn't seem to be so much a religious issue as it is cultural.
.
My wife and I were greatly incensed when we attended a "Winter Holidays" program for our third grade grand-daughter some years back. The room was decorated to celebrate Kwanza and Hanakuh--no Christmas. As I recall there were no black children in the class and only one Jewish girl. The stories the children were trained to recite never mentioned Christmas. No child's paper pinned on the walls made any mention of Christmas whatsoever.
.
We were very upset along with many others; but, what could be done other than to write letters and make personal complaints. One thing is for sure, the children are heavily taught to be very sensitive to any comments that came off in the least way as anti-this or that minority. Political Correctness rules the day and academic excellence goes down the drain.
.
Marx and Lenin were masters at taking over the educational system and the Nazis weren't too shabby on it either. What's wrong with America that we let this stuff go almost without notice?
.
Christmas has come to be a Potlatch.
.

Pinky said...

.
In other words, why can't we just let Christmas be?
.
It's a time for families to gather and to be separated from the rest of the world--even the neighbors.
.
Why should there be such a push to force one understanding of the day on the public than some other view?
.
The abstractions of the Winter Solstice are astounding in relation to the Christian idea of Christmas. According to what I read, Jesus was born in September.
.

Brad Hart said...

Tom Van Dyke writes:

"Well, Brad an examination of this blog's archives indicates---IMO, of course---that one side of the sword has a far sharper edge, and one that's weilded far more often."

Yes, but this is not intentional. As you know, Lindsey and I have been trying to recruit other perspectives. The problem is that they appear to be hard to come by. And those we already have do not write as much as the others.

With that said, I still think Mr. Watts' post is worthwile, even if it doesn't fit the perusasion of some on this blog. After all, it has inspired an excellent debate, which is what we want most. I say, "keep them coming Mr. Watts!"

Lindsey Shuman said...

Amen, Mr. Hart =)

J. L. Watts said...

Thank you, Brad, Lindsey. I will indeed keep them coming, but I hope to be able to keep the slag frags out of it. (I hope)

bpabbott said...

J.L. please do continue to contribute. You offer a perspective I find genuine and reasonable. As "reason" was the litmus test of the founding period, I think you are well suited to contribute here!