Happy traditional American holiday season observance

OK, you’ve finally convinced me.  Things were never better than when things were the way they were, back in the good old days when everyone believed in the Constitution and Americans weren’t afraid of their religious heritage; you know, back in the generation of the Founding Fathers and after that, when America was the way God meant it to be:

Not a single state in the Union closed its offices for Christmas on December 25 in 1834. [Abraham] Lincoln marked his first Christmas as President, in December 1861, by holding a Cabinet meeting in the morning and a dinner party in the evening. The Lincoln family never had a White House tree and sent no Christmas cards.

Nobody was much shocked by these omissions.

The public Christmas as Americans know it today did not take form until late in the 19th century. George Washington issued a proclamation on Thanksgiving, but he never made any statement about Christmas (or Easter for that matter). The first state to recognize Christmas as a holiday was Alabama, in 1836, but the North and especially New England resisted. Not until 1856 did Massachusetts accept Christmas as a holiday. The federal government took until 1870 to follow.

David Frum writes that the American attitude about Christmas “back in the day” was one that I think we should learn from.  First, he argues that Americans back then absolutely insisted on keeping church separated from state because of how much they cared about their religions, because they didn’t want government favoring one religion over another: “Better to deliver the mail on Sunday than debate who was right about the Sabbath. Better to issue no religious proclamations than let presidents pick and choose which holy days to mark and how to mark them.”

A second fact also explains the coolness of the early national government to Christianity: the keen awareness of many 19th century Christians of the non-Christian origins of many Christmas traditions.

Christmas is celebrated near the date of the old Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Gift-giving on the day was also a Roman tradition. The Christmas tree, the hanging of wreaths and house-to-house caroling hark back to the pre-Christian German holiday of Yule.

Calvinists had abandoned their outright ban on Christmas observance on the late 17th century. But many Protestant denominations retained a lingering suspicion of the holiday until deep into the 19th century.

Fox News and its co-conspirators can rattle on all they want to about taking Christ out of Christmas and about the terrible secularization of the season, even while filling the rest of the day with ad after ad after insidious Christmas sale ad, but they’re missing (or ignoring) an important point.  That is, the Christmas they claim to be defending is not the Christmas of the birth of Jesus.

It is the Christmas of folkway that is the Christmas so passionately defended by those who talk about “the war on Christmas.”

The Christmas of Santa and Rudolph, and trees and stockings, and candy canes and “Merry Christmas” greetings began to be most publicly celebrated in the United States only after — and only because — the religious impetus for the holiday had already dwindled away.

Calvin’s dad explains it all

Only a few more shopping days left…thank God.

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Thanks, Calvin and Hobbes and GoComics.com.

The surest sign of the season: the return of the War on Christmas on Fox News Channel

Those first few strands of garland on the shopping center signpost the week before Halloween could be innocent enough, and the early signs that the local nursery is saving space for a lot of trees can be misleading.  But there’s only one explanation for the sudden glut of reports of controversy over “holiday” trees at the statehouse and proposed changes to the lyrics of Christmas carols: Fox News Channel has cranked up its reports on the War on Christmas.  And I do mean crank.

Jason Linkins notes that FNC is reporting a major victory on behalf of Christmas in this on-going clash, a phantom battle that is high high high on the list of the stupidest things ever to be the cause of wasted breath.  It’s another asinine cry for attention from a pampered majority of Americans who inexplicably feel threatened by any attempt by government or business to recognize that there are Americans with other beliefs that deserve respect, too.

For most mainstream Christians, the Yuletide season is one in which enormous accommodations are made to those who practice the Christian faith. You get time off from work, and schools get out so your kids can visit family, and on every block, there is an illuminated reminder that Christmas has arrived. You’ve probably noticed that this began about mid-October.

No holiday is as well accommodated in America as Christmas. It is perhaps one of the best celebrated religious holidays in the history of mankind.

Yet these people are peeved because some choose to wish others “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” even if only for crassly commercial reasons.

…the continuing use of the term “war on Christmas” to describe the reaction of people who do not receive full validation of their religious beliefs from cashiers 100 percent of the time is still a grievous insult to people around the world who are legitimately persecuted for expressing their religious faith, and who look to the way religious freedom is accommodated in America with envy.

And well they should, for they recognize that the Europeans who settled America were people who fled religious persecution in search of religious freedom.   Of course, the fine folks at FNC like to pull that plum from the pudding and stick it in the eye of the Christmas-haters, claiming that “religious freedom is on the rocks” in the land of the Pilgrims.  I leave it to Jon Stewart to set that straw man on fire (click the pics for a two-part pertinent and amusing holiday-themed retort):

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Oh, happy day!

Why, the day they start to show new episodes of television series, of course!  It’s like Christmas without the lines or the bills or the lamenting about what to get everybody on the list because there’s something for everyone.  There are new stories from old favorites, and there are new offerings you can try for free without any down payment beyond your time.

Now, if you’re a Scrooge afoot in the land of TV, just go read a book and don’t bother the rest of us.  I’m not saying it’ll all be great, or even that much of it will be worthwhile.  But right now, it’s all shiny and full of possibility.  Still, I keep these precepts in mind:

Television can teach.  It can illuminate.  Yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.  Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.  (Edward R. Murrow)

Imitation is the sincerest form of television.  (Fred Allen)

 Time for the first show–see you later.

The angel in the deli

On this day of giving, please accept a wonderful Garrison Keillor piece that I read in today’s Houston Chronicle.

Christmas angel found in unexpected place

You can almost see the Hudson…