Wednesday, December 07, 2005

To Founding Fathers, Christmas Was No Big Deal

By MARC McDONALD

This holiday season, Fox News and the rest of the nation's right-wing echo chamber have decreed that "the war on Christmas" is the biggest issue facing America.

Silly me, and here I was thinking that perhaps the disastrous war in Iraq was the biggest issue facing us.

Self-appointed "moral watchdogs" like Bill O'Reilly want to put the "Christ" back into Christmas and restore the holiday to its supposed proper place in our nation's history as a religious observance. Anyone familiar with O'Reilly's work knows that he is the appropriate moral figure to make such a call.

O'Reilly's 1998 novel, Those Who Trespass, for example, is filled with Christian-inspired wisdom and moral clarity. It includes such heart-warming scenes as a 15-year-old prostitute who smokes crack cocaine and performs fellatio.

In a sense, I share some of Fox's appreciation of Christmas. I think it can be indeed a special day to Christians and I really would like to see it designated as a holiday in which every non-emergency worker gets to take off and spend time with his or her family.

This last point is particularly important to me. The Republicans, after all, have always ferociously fought against any government regulation requiring that businesses give time off to their employees. The U.S., after all, is alone in the First World in not requiring the private sector to give any vacation time to workers.

So, as someone who was required by my private sector employer to work every Christmas for 15 years, I would indeed like to see Christmas made into a holiday that everyone can enjoy (not just government employees like Bush).

However, someone needs to send a memo to the Fox News talking heads regarding the true place of Christmas in our nation's history. The fact is, Christmas was nothing special to our nation's Founding Fathers.

This uncomfortable fact would lodge like a lump of coal in the throats of America's right-wing (if only they were aware of it in the first place). Conservatives in this country are always busy painting the Founding Fathers as devout Christians. However, any serious historian will tell you that the Founding Fathers were in fact not Christians.

Nor was Christmas particularly important to our Founding Fathers (or the nation as a whole). The U.S. government didn't even recognize Christmas as a holiday until 1870. Until then, Congress routinely met and conducted business on Christmas day. It was, in fact, just another workday.

Truth be told, Christmas was a totally different affair during the first century of America's history. It was far removed from today's holiday in which families gather and open presents around the Christmas tree.

So how did one celebrate Christmas back in those days? Well, typically, you might start off the day getting blindingly drunk. Then, you'd take to the streets and approach passer-by and demand money from them. If they refused, you'd beat them up. You might conclude the day by smashing some store windows or breaking into people's homes and stealing their food. Peruse a newspaper from the 1820s and you can routinely read of such chaotic yuletide lawlessness.

In the early part of the 19th century, Christmas was, as one historian once noted, "like a nightmarish cross between Halloween and a particularly violent, rowdy Mardi Gras." In fact, a massive Christmas riot in 1828 led to the formation of New York City's first police force.

Indeed, newspapers of the era are filled with disturbing accounts of what Christmas was really like in those days: widespread rioting, sexual assault, vandalism, drunkenness, street violence and general lawlessness. Most of these "traditions" were carried over from Europe, where, dating back to the Middle Ages, Christmas had been regarded by the wealthy classes as a safety valve for releasing the peasants' pent-up frustrations.

Christmas as we know it today didn't really take root until the 1870s. In fact, the holiday as we know it today was invented by middle-class merchants in the late 19th century, primarily as a gimmick to increase sales. In this respect, Christmas hasn't changed much since then.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fox News' latest "Christmas is under attack from the liberal secularists" is just the latest cynical ratings gimmick from that ministry of propaganda.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how hell is going to feel. Will it be hot, cold, or just extremely painful? Send me an e-mail after you get there.

Anonymous said...

To the previous poster: What an incredible asshole you obviously are! The sad thing is that you obviously know nothing of your own professed religion, assuming, of course, that you are a shit-for-brains evangelical Christian, as you seem.

Anonymous said...

The White House itself has been sending out cards and invitations that avoid mentioning "Christmas"--but you don't hear the retards at Fox news criticizing this, of course. Of course,, we all know what a Christian network Fox is. You can tell by watching such sex-drenched "comedies" as "The War at Home."

Anonymous said...

Treason's Greetings, from the Bush team!

Anonymous said...

To the one who asked how hell is going to feel: How about YOU telling US when YOU get there? Seems you're bound for there anyway.

Anonymous said...

A message from the Bible to the previous poster who arrogantly condemns another poster to hell:
"Judge not, lest ye be judged."

spygirl said...

I BELIEVE THAT ALMIGHTY GOD WOULD LIKE EVERYONE TO HAVE HIS OR HER OWN OPINION ON HOW THEY FEEL AND NO-ONE AND NO ONE LOOKING DOWN ON THE OTHER BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY SAY OR FEEL.REMEMBER WE ARE NOT GOD WE'ER ONLY PEOPLE.

Anonymous said...

ALMIGHTY GOD MADE US WITH FREE WILL TO CHOOSE WHY PUT OTHERS DOWN BECAUSE YOU DON'T AGREE WITH WHAT THEY SAY? NO MATTER WHAT IT IS.BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS AND OTHER'S DON'T DON'T MEAN THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD RELIGION IS TEARING THIS WORLD APART. LAST TIME I LOOKED IT STATED JUST TO BELIVE ON GOD DO YOU AGREE

cindy said...

I don't know where you get your information from, but the founding fathers were indeed, devout Christians. That's why they came here to start with, freedom of religion.

Dez Crawford said...

How about putting the "Christ" back in "Christians?"

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Dez, I definitely agree!