Has Christmas Always Been a Popular Holiday in the United States?

In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. In fact, the study concluded that 87 percent of non-Christians observe the holiday in some way. While the current so-called “War on Christmas” may work as political theater, it has no basis in fact -- especially when compared to life in Massachusetts in the mid-1600s, when the Puritan leadership actually passed a law making Christmas observances a crime. The conservative Puritans hated the era’s raucous Christmas partying, citing society’s penchant for “heavy drinking and loose sexual activity.” They also claimed that the holiday had nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and instead had roots in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia -- a yearly tradition of pagan merrymaking that coincided with the winter solstice.

Two hundred years without Christmas?

  • The Puritans claimed that there was no scriptural basis for Christmas. The Bible, they said, does not mention a season, or a single day, that marked the birth of Jesus.

  • The Yuletide ban remained on the books in Massachusetts for an entire generation. In 1681, the Massachusetts Bay Colony reluctantly repealed the law.

  • However, well into the 19th century, businesses and schools remained open on 25 December, while many churches were closed -- a clear attempt at purposeful non-observance. In 1856, Christmas finally became a public holiday in Massachusetts.

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