From the Bangor Daily News comes Stephen Carter’s short history of American Christmas. A nugget; follow the link for the rest.
It’s important to understand that Christmas as celebrated in the U.S. did not begin as a religious holiday. It was, in the words of historian Stephen Nissenbaum, an “invented tradition.” In his marvelous book “The Battle for Christmas,” Nissenbaum reminds us that Christmas in the 18th and 19th centuries began as something raucous, an atmosphere of carnival and misrule. People misbehaved, openly and ostentatiously. The churches wanted nothing to do with it, and the Puritans even tried to ban it. But the forces of commerce and domesticity were too great to resist. Children wanted presents, and grownups wanted to relax and celebrate. And so, gradually, the churches gave in.
Our current struggles over the holiday should not be viewed as the inevitable waning of the sacred and the triumph of the secular. It’s more accurate to say that the secularization of Christmas that so many claim to hate represents a return to the old days.