The original war on Christmas was waged during the sixteenth and seventeenth century by Protestant Christians who opposed the pagan traditions of the Catholic church. The Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were strict Puritans, with firm views against holidays such as Christmas and Easter, rejecting them because of their pagan origins. They were particularly contemptuous of Christmas, nicknaming it "Foolstide”.
"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism"
Shocked by the Bible (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008)
Christmas decorations were considered to be unholy pagan rituals, traditional foods such as mince pies and pudding were banned, and businesses were required to remain open all day on Christmas. They made it illegal to mention the name of St. Nicolas, exchange gifts, or sing carols, and anyone caught ditching their work duties or feasting was fined five shillings.
"Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas, than in all the 12 months besides.”
Hugh Latimer, 16th century clergyman
Around the time of the American Revolution anti-Christmas sentiment flared up again because Christmas had become associated with England for so many years. In fact, after the U.S. Constitution came into effect, the Senate assembled on Christmas Day in 1797, as did the House in 1802.
It might surprise you to learn that one of the issues during the Civil War was the celebration of Christmas. The North and South were divided over the issue of slavery, as well as Christmas. As an early act of psychological warfare, President Lincoln asked Thomas Nast to create a drawing of Santa Claus with some Union soldiers. This image of Santa supporting the North had a demoralizing influence on the Confederate army. Many people in the North considered it a sin to celebrate Christmas, while Christmas was an important celebration in the South. This is why it is no surprise that the first states to legalize Christmas were the southern states of Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas.
The ban on Christmas remained in New England until 1856 when Christmas became a legal holiday. Even then, some schools continued to hold classes on December 25 until 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant declared it a federal holiday. Although the change was gradual, people eventually began to embrace the holiday in all of its fullness, complete with trees, wreaths, mistletoe, and Santa Claus.
In more recent years, another interesting war on Christmas has come to the surface, involving Wiccans and Atheists who celebrate the holiday in all of its festivities and traditions, but reject Christ. These people are trying to bring back awareness that Christmas traditions come from ancient pagan celebrations, and actually have nothing to do with Christ or the Bible. I have met several practicing pagans who actually laugh at Christians for celebrating Christmas, because of its deeply pagan roots.
These same people have caused many businesses and government offices to feel pressure to remove the word “Christmas” and replace it with “Holiday” or “Season”, so that they might avoid offending people. This is what people today refer to as the “war on Christmas”.
Sadly, this brings to light a shift among Christians, who were once boycotting Christmas celebrations, and are now boycotting retail stores who refuse to greet their customers with the phrase “Merry Christmas”.
Many claim they are trying to put “Christ back into Christmas”, however this stands in stark contrast to the early Protestants who claimed that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ.
If Christmas is really a religious holiday about Christ, then why are people upset when secular retail stores greet people with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”? It sounds like Christmas might have more to do with consumerism than Christians care to admit.
I find it very disturbing that many Christians today are fighting to reclaim those deeply pagan traditions that early American Christians once fought so hard to remove.
I hope this puts things into perspective.