Christmas provides for one of the most interesting intersections of church and state in the United States. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a federal holiday, but its celebration as a religious holiday of course extends much further back in history. Christians argue that the reason the season exists is Jesus’s birth. Secular groups disagree, pointing toward the pagan tradition of celebrating the winter solstice as the real reason behind the holiday. While almost 80 percent of the country identifies as Christian, other religious traditions celebrate holidays during the season as well, and the First Amendment right regarding public display of religious sentiment has sparked controversies across the country in recent years.
Christmas is important for an entirely different reason as well: The season leading up to it is a crucial time for American businesses, specifically retailers, who rely on the boom in spending during the season. The increasing emphasis on gift-giving and consumerism during the season has lead to a redefinition of Christmas in recent years, and Christian groups have fought against what they understand as enchroachment on an expressly religious holiday.
Christians have rallied against the tendency to replace the greeting “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” and groups like the American Family Association have attempted to boycott companies that do not recognize Christmas in stores and in advertisments. In 2004, after the singing of Christmas carols was banned in one New Jersey school district, the lawsuit that ensued almost made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Likewise, Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island incited the ire of Christan groups when he referred to his statehouse’s 17-foot spruce as a “holiday” tree this December. Concurrently in Virginia, an athiest group was permitted to erect a crucified skeleton Santa Claus on the Loudoun County courthouse lawn. “I just think that these folks are trying to ruin the holiday spirit in the name of the First Amendment,” Leesburg Councilmember Ken Reid told News4 in Virginia regarding the display.
Has Christmas become too secular? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
Janice Shaw Crouse Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute
J.P. Duffy Vice President for Communications at Family Research Council
Bill Donohue President and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights