One hot topic in the culture wars has been the proper holiday greeting — “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?
Not that I want to get involved in this contemporary debate, but as a history nerd I couldn’t help notice the following item on the December 23rd Ozy Presidential Daily News Brief email —
It’s enough to spoil one’s eggnog. This evening, Christmas observances will begin with greetings. Like many politicians before him, President Trump has vowed to reclaim “Merry Christmas” as the appropriately Christian welcome. But historians provide perspective: Americans’ devout forebears, the Puritans, fined people for saying “Merry Christmas,” because: 1. They’d outlawed the holiday for its lack of scriptural basis, and 2. It was when their less pious neighbors debauched the night away. So rather than agonize over Yuletide syntax, remember that charity, comfort and joy can make all the difference.
That’s a quick way to get people’s attention this time of year! Was there actually a time when saying “Merry Christmas,” in fact celebrating Christmas itself, was illegal? A bit of research has proved that, yes, Christmas has actually been against the law in the U.S.
It began in the mother country. Back in 17th century England, Parliament under Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas for 12 years beginning in 1647, replacing it with a day of fasting. The ban ended with the restoration of King Charles II, but the Massachusetts Bay Colony imposed it in the New World. Those pesky Puritans believed any kind of merrymaking was sinful, decorating was considered pagan, and they must have been very persuasive — in many places, this ban became law. Alabama was the first state to formally legalize Christmas in 1836, with Oklahoma being the last in 1907. Such an act must have been a mere formality because the U.S. made Christmas a national holiday in 1870.
What does this prove? I think it means don’t trust your religious holidays to government interpretation and Puritans can take the fun out of anything.
“Whatever You Say, Be Happy Christmas Is Legal,” The Presidential Daily Brief (story #6; http://www.ozy.com/presidential-daily-brief? )
“Christmas – Ancient Pagan Holiday Which Was Criminally Illegal Until 1907,” HuffPost UK Edition (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/judith-lewis/christmas—ancient-pagan-holiday-which-was-criminally-illegal-until-1907_b_2350974.html)
“The Surprising Truth – Christmas Was Banned In America” By https://www.livescience.com/32891-why-was-christmas-banned-in-america-.html), Live Science (
“Christmas Controversies,” Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_controversies). The photo of the “Puritan Publick Notice” came from this site.