Christmas is that ever hopeful holiday when people of good will put their differences to one side and wish each other the best for the New Year. Since the Civil War, Christmas has been the time when our spiritual batteries are recharged. All things seem possible Christmas morning.
But this was not always so. America was founded and created by English Calvinists – Congregationalists in New England and Presbyterians elsewhere. These Protestants were a hardy stock of Christians who viewed the world as a temporary respite on the road to eternal salvation or damnation. They believed in predestination and took life very seriously. Accordingly they viewed Christmas as a residual Papist idolatry, a frivolous day of pagan tendencies more suited to Anglicans (today’s Episcopalians) and Roman Catholics. Perhaps no one captured the single-mindedness of the puritans better than H.L. Mencken the quintessential American Realist: “Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Basically 17th century Calvinists as a group would make today’s Evangelicals look like Mouseketeers. Fortunately Calvinists lost their iron grip on America’s throat and Christmas become legal in 1680 and by the America Revolution of the 1770s it was being warmly embraced by our most famous Episcopalian, George Washington. The following prayer is from the general’s own prayer book:
“O kind Father, continue Thy mercy and favor to me this (Christmas) day and ever hereafter. Preserve and defend our rulers in Church and State. Bless the people of this land. Be a father to the fatherless, A comforter to the comfortless, A deliverer to the captives and A physician to the sick. Let Thy blessings be upon our friends, kindred and families. Amen.”
Presbyterians like Abraham Lincoln and Samuel Clemens still resisted the love affair with Jesus of Nazareth. Lincoln’s own spiritual reawakening during the Civil War produced beautiful and moving proses towards Almighty God but his embrace of Christmas (the birth of our Lord and Savior) was tepid.
“While in office, Christmas was a time unlike other regular work days. In 1861 Lincoln hosted a Christmas party at the White House. In 1862 he spent Christmas visiting soldiers at area hospitals. In 1863 he visited Union soldiers with his son Tad, bearing Christmas gifts of books and clothing marked ‘From Tad Lincoln’ ”. From General Sherman to President Lincoln, Christmas Day of 1864: ‘I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…’ In a heartfelt reply, Lincoln wrote: ‘Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah…Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army – officers and men.’ ” – B. Francis Morlan
Lincoln and his contemporaries were just on the cusp of our Modern Day Christmas yet he grew to understand the significance of this holy day. “Lincoln instructed (Thomas) Nast, the famous political cartoonist, to show Santa with Union troops as much as possible and the enduring images from 1863 and 1864 publications of the day are largely credited with defining the image of the modern Santa Claus. Their affect was so profound that Lincoln one time claimed Santa was ‘the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had’ ”.
Thanks to Abraham Lincoln, Great Britain’s Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and the English novelist Charles Dickens our modern image of Christmas morphed into our experience today. In 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday and the love affair with December 25th has been a constant until recently. Today, atheistic forces are trying to eliminate Christmas where in 1620 Christmas suffered due to literal and fervently religious forces. It’s a mixed up world but essentially, both extreme ends of the pendulum are hostile to Christmas.
The name Christmas is from the Old English (Crīstesmæsse) “Christ‘s Mass“. Christ being from the ancient Greek title (Christós) meaning ‘anointed‘ – this term was itself from the Hebrew, Messiah – Jesus Christ meaning Jesus the Messiah is born today (Christmas).
The problem today is not the latter day Evangelicals among us but rather with the Liberal -Progressives who are trying to dismantle Christmas before our very eyes. 80% of Americans are Christians who believe that Christmas is the day the savior of the earth was born. The figure probably climbs as high as 90% as to Americans who are moved by the peace and solemnity of Christmas as an American Cultural phenomenon. It’s time for Christmas followers everywhere to push back.
In the words of Tiny Tim from Dickens’ 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol: “God bless us, every one!” (Word Total: 813)
Geoffrey G. Fisher is a federally designated Highly Qualified state-certified history teacher living in southwest Florida. He holds a BA in History from the University of Connecticut and a MA in Public Policy from Trinity College in Hartford, CT. In addition to teaching he is a former elected official and speechwriter. Mr. Fisher now writes the political blog: THE THINKING CAP at www.theamericanthinkingcap.blogspot.com He is also a weekly columnist for the Political e-Magazine: THE PATRIOTUPDATE.COM