Saturday, December 16, 2006

How Did America's Founding Fathers Feel About Christmas?


"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
---Thomas Jefferson, in an 1823 letter to John Adams

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


Anonymous said...

It is truly nauseating the way the right-wing claims for itself the mantle of the party of morals and Christianity. But what's even more sickening is that the MSM lets them get away with this.

Anonymous said...

Hi all!

Anonymous said...

I also love the very Christmasy Fact of the notion of putting Christ-Back-In-Christmas...that its been known for decades that Christ was actually born In April.

But that's all too Fact-toid-ish for the Christmastinistas to consider.


Anonymous said...

For the first time since Vietnam, an organized, robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved plan to petition Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq:

Anonymous said...

Good article. The Faux News contingent doesn't give a darn about Christmas. Their phoney outrage is expressly to keep their own names in the news. They pander to the least knowledgeable in our country...and thanks to the dumbing down of America, there are plenty of those.

Anonymous said...

In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.

The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

No one knows what day Jesus Christ was born on. From the biblical description, most historians believe that his birth probably occurred in September, approximately six months after Passover. One thing they agree on is that it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in December, since the bible records shepherds tending their sheep in the fields on that night. This is quite unlikely to have happened during a cold Judean winter.

Christmas and the baby Jesus have nothing to do with each other had it not been for Pope Julius I.

Anonymous said...

I can think of nothing that lives up to its own hype as little as Xmas. Be happy or you're sad seems to be the message. I just don't associate Xmas with good times, sorry if I sound like a spoilsport. Also, I don't believe Christ ever was in Christmas. It's a pagan festival LONG predating Christianity. We all know that.
Gledwood (

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jay Allbritton said...

Great post, Marc.

Anonymous said...

I am not here to question whether Thomas Jefferson said those words,being the deist that he was, such a comment would not be alien. However, Thomas Jefferson advocated there being a God, and the validity of god in government. The Seperation of Church and State was ment to garrenty that there would be no offical church to cause division in the young nation. Also to the first anonymous, be careful what you say, and always look for vaild opinions that contradict your own. Although I do belive that the Right has a bit of a self-rightoeus streak, I know that that both sides of the debate, left and right, are capable of placeing authoritraian measures to insure that their precious perfect moral world is presurved. To be fair, the left has allowed this to happen, just as the right has become the party of corperate intrests and evil capitalist warmongerers. There is a room somewhere where Dems and Repubs meet to discus these sorts of things... Imagine Hannity meeting with Michael Moore to discuss the weekly bashing.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any proof that the Founding Fathers were not christians?

Aaron's Home Inspections said...

So none I mean none of our founding fathers enjoyed Christmas? I guess you knew them all even the ones who didn't make the news. Unless you think 20 ot 30 brave men started this country and fought for it by themselves. Jokers like you have alway hand picked the statements you need to forward your agenda.

Marc McDonald said...

To the previous poster:
Yeah, whatever, Sparky.

Freedom ins't free. said...

Te founders were not Christians or believers? I truly like the re-write of story and the spin.

>-52 of the 56 signers of The Declaration of Independence were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? The other four all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention

Thomas Jefferson wrote on the front of his well- worn Bible: "I am a Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also."

George Washington, the Father of our Nation, in his farewell speech on September 19, 1796: "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

John Adams, our second president, who also served as chairman of the American Bible Society. In an address to military leaders he said, "We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

1th Supreme court justice John Jay, stated that when we select our national leaders, if we are to preserve our Nation, we must select Christians. "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

Patrick Henry .- "I have disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give to them, and that is the Christian religion. If they had that and I had not given them one cent, they would be rich. If they have not that, and I had given them the world, they would be poor."

It's plenty more, but I hope this get's the idea... to farther someone agenda, the deception is not the best weapon... truth will always find the light.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, "Freedom," your Founding Father "quotes" are bogus.
Take (please) the George Washington quote. No less a resource than includes that "quote" on its "Spurious Quotations" page:

The problem for the wingnuts these days is that apparently they're unaware of Google and how easy it is to debunk their fabricated version of "history."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for enlightening us all to the truth about Christmas, and how the Found Fathers of this nation didn't celebrate it. Of course, the whole reason why the Puritans and early newcomers came here in the first place (don't forget money, too) was to flee the persecution of the Vatican and her underlings, which Christmas and Easter represented. Not only do Right Wing Christians celebrate a Babylonian-inspired Pagan holiday, they build their entire denominations, churches, ministries and their whole year around Christmas. Then if you dare tell one of them the truth, they label you a "scrooge," which Dickens said was a "Jew," further increasing their historical antisemitism, just like almost ALL of their Christian Church Fathers displayed. And you are very correct about the Religious Right (not all) hypocritically calling for the government to leave Freedom of Religion to the People, then turn around and try to make Christmas a Christian National Holiday for American, creating a theocracy that our Founding Fathers shook off when they defeated Britain Christian Fascism.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi 777denny, thanks for stopping by and for your comment.
I checked out your blog. Lots of great reading there on a topic that has long fascinated me (early Christian history).
Keep up the good work!

Founding Fathers said...

I think the mark is being missed here. It does not matter what religion or how the Founding Fathers practiced Christmas. The important thing is that the Founding Fathers setup a way for everyone to worship how or what they want without the government mandating or limiting it. (As long as it does not interfere with the rights of another.) The point should be that we all have the freedom to or not to worship a God, and not be force by the state.