By Teresa Welsh |
No. Christmas officially became a secular holiday on June 28, 1870. That's when President Ulysses S. Grant declared December 25 a legal holiday, along with January 1, July 4, and a day to be determined for Thanksgiving. We were founded as a secular country under a godless Constitution (no mention of God or Jesus), where freedom of conscience is guaranteed for all people. Just so there is no doubt about President Grant's intent, in his seventh-annual message to Congress on Dec. 7, 1875, he said: "Declare church and state forever separate and distinct; but each free within their proper spheres."
Christians may certainly celebrate Christmas religiously. Early Christians made up a story about a savior born on December 25, a myth that originated in the winter solstice festivals of ancient civilizations. Mithras, a Persian savior-god, had a sizable following in the Roman world and his birth was celebrated on that day. By appropriating the day for the alleged birth of Jesus, Christians could more easily convert pagans.
Individuals are free to focus on whomever they view as the reason for the season: Jesus, Rudolph, or Santa. My personal preference is a Santa who wants us to be good for goodness's sake, without fear of eternal punishment for not believing in him. From Rudolph we learn that it's OK to be different, and to stand proud even if others laugh at you. And though Jesus primarily wants us to give glory to God, I like it that he also asks for "Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men."
What a wonderful world we would have in any season if we followed these three lessons: be good, accept diversity, and strive for peace. I wish this holiday season would bring us closer to such important secular principles. Unfortunately, the Christmas season has become increasingly divisive.
A manufactured "War on Christmas" by some Christians now forces people to choose between wishing a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It's ironic that stores are boycotted when the emphasis is on the Happy Holidays phrase, implying that the true meaning of Christmas for religious people must be "shopping." In fact, because of the pagan origin of Christmas, some early American colonies prohibited the celebration of Christmas. That might have been the original war on Christmas.
Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, HumanLight, or any other holiday, my wish for this and all seasons is that we strive for peace on Earth and goodwill toward all humans.
About Herb Silverman Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America
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