Christmas Day (yesterday) this year was on Saturday, so it was not so important for it to be a federal holiday. But what about it? Should Christmas be a federal holiday? Probably not.
I am sure many who read this will disagree with me. So let me explain why I, one who has been an ordained Christian minister for more than fifty years and who served as a missionary for nearly four decades, question the legitimacy of Christmas being a federal holiday.
Last time I mentioned how Christmas is widely celebrated in Japan, especially by the merchants. But as you might expect, Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, or in most other countries where a majority of the citizens are not Christians and where Christianity has not been the primary shaper of the culture.
But that certainly does not mean that Christmas has no religious meaning in Japan. There are more people, including more non-Christians, who attend church services on the Sunday before Christmas and on Christmas Eve than any other time of the year.
Many Western Christians of the past, however, did not celebrate Christmas at all. Many Protestants, including those “illegal aliens of 1620” about whom I wrote last month, did not observe Christmas as a holiday. Those pious Pilgrims began building their first permanent houses in Plymouth Colony on December 25, 1621. And from 1659 to 1681 Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston.
During that same century, the Puritans who remained in England were also negative about celebrating Christmas. The name, after all, came from Christ’s mass, a Catholic practice which they referred to as “a popish festival with no biblical justification.” It was only after the monarchy was restored under King Charles II in 1660 that Christmas began to be celebrated again in England.
In this country now, many who would object to Christmas no longer being a federal holiday are also likely to advocate maintaining the original intent of the founding fathers of the nation. But during and after the Revolutionary War, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas which had again been popular there for a century. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution.
Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday in the U.S. until 1870. One wonders if there was something of a compromise in that action. Before the Civil War, the North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas as well as on slavery. Many Northerners opposed the celebration of Christmas, but the first three States to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836 and Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.
Now in our pluralistic nation at the end of 2010, perhaps it is time to re-think Christmas as a federal holiday. The demographics of the U.S. are much different now than 140, and more, years ago, so probably we should be following the stipulation of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
In spite of its secularization and commercialization, Christmas surely still has something to do with Christianity. Thus, changing Christmas so it is no longer a federal holiday is probably something that should be done sooner rather than later.