Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ending Christmas as an Official American Holiday

When I was attending California State University Los Angeles in the 1990's, there was a year (I forget exactly which one) when the first day of classes for the school quarter fell on the same day as Rosh Hashanah,  the Jewish New Year and a significant holiday in the Jewish calendar.  This coincidence placed Jewish students (and faculty members) who wanted to observe the holiday at a sharp disadvantage if they intended to be absent that day.  In terms of importance,  the first session of class is one of  the most critical, probably second only to final exams. Yet this made no difference to the CSULA administration when the quarter calendar was set up for that year, no matter how upsetting this apparent insensitivity  would be to those who were affected. However, another way of looking at the matter is that the school acted correctly because a  public institution should follow a policy of neutrality in matters regarding religion including—and especially—holiday observances.

So carrying this line of thought to its logical conclusion, why then should Christmas be treated any differently?  Yet can you imagine the fuss that Christians would make if American public schools scheduled classes and private companies and government conducted business as usual on that day? One might argue that there's a difference: Christmas is a legal holiday, and Rosh Hashanah isn't.  But that's exactly my point. Christmas was enacted as an official American holiday even though it has meaning and importance only for followers of a particular  religion. Or to put it another way, Christianity is the only religion in the U.S. that gets its own federal holiday.  That is a direct violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and is a glaring manifestation of Christian privilege in America. Yet as such, it is the elephant in the middle of the living room whose existence few Americans care to acknowledge.

For what it's worth from an historical perspective , Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870 through an act of Congress.  In fact the first English settlers in America, the Puritans even frowned upon celebrating that day. So to that extent, this holiday is not woven into the very fabric of  the American narrative.  But  even if it were,   Christmas is exclusionary against Americans who are not Christians.  Thus as a day of observance  it is discriminatory and hence  undeserving of government endorsement.  And incidentally, not all Christians mark this holiday on December 25.  The Eastern Orthodox Church observes it on January 6.  That leads to the question as to how Jesus could have two birth dates. This gives a whole new meaning to" "born again". But I digress.

Naturally, I would like to see Christmas disestablished as a legal holiday in the U.S., but if that ever happens, it will likely not be until many decades from now. The biggest obstacle of course would be vociferous opposition by conservative Christians whose response would no doubt be that secularists want to "outlaw" Christmas. Then there is the consideration that for most workers in both the public and private sphere,  Dec. 25 is traditionally a day off.  Wouldn't  they lose this benefit if the Christmas holiday were abolished?  Not necessarily.  A replacement holiday could be declared on some other day in December as a substitute.  Or perhaps Dec. 25 could remain as a holiday but designated with a secular name and theme.  That way, those who want to celebrate Christmas on that date could do so, but they would no longer "own" the date as a religious occasion (over the past couple years more businesses seem to have begun operating on that day anyway.)  On the other hand, this alternative may be just creating an elaborate fiction that papers over the issue without really solving it.  

However resolved,  it seems very unlikely the end of Christmas as an American legal holiday will ever come about unless those who fully support the Constitution are willing to bring the matter to light and make the effort to raise the American consciousness that this is a truly  First Amendment issue  which needs to be addressed. Despite what many fundamentalists claim, the U.S. is not a" Christian nation", but only to the extent that we do not allow followers of that faith to dominate American culture.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to share a website that I came across that actually proves that God exists through date patterns. The date patterns actually correlate to scriptures all throughout the Bible. It's absolutely amazing to see how historical events and the date they occurred can be matched to scriptures that speak of specific detail of the occurrence.

The website is www.provesgod.org!

I have actually used this website as a tool to show people that there is indeed a spiritual record that can be proven!

Secular Guy said...

I published this response against my better judgment mainly because it does not address the topic of my post.

However, I'd like to nip "Anonymous's" argument in the bud with the following video:

http://www.jewishjournal.com/bloggish/item/the_bible_code_hoax_or_holiness/

I hope that (s)he will take the trouble to see and comprehend it.

Secular Guy said...

The rest of the url that was cut off is oax_or_holiness/

Ani Sharmin said...

I never understood why Christianity gets to have its holiday recognized by the government when no other religion does. It just seems to feed into all the false ideas of the U. S. being a Christian Nation. They're the only religious group whose members usually don't have to choose between going to school/work or celebrating their holiday. (I think this becomes even more obvious around Easter. When I was in Kindergarten through 12th grade, the spring break was at a different time each year, which I think was done intentionally so that Easter would fall within the break.)

I think most people, even those who are not Christian, have gotten used to having a holiday around this time of year, so I think you make a good point about having a different secular holiday instead.

-Ani Sharmin

Secular Guy said...

Ani,

Thanks for your support. I doubt that I will live to see this issue to even get to become a serious public debate. But in the meantime if I can at least piss off Christian conservatives by promoting this goal, I feel that I will at least have accomplished something worthwhile.

BTW that's an interesting point that you made about the manipulation of spring break.

The Godless Monster said...

I wouldn't mind if there was a Federally mandated winter break or winter holiday, but to name one specific religion's holy day day as a Federal holiday is a blatant violation of the 1st Amendment's separation clause.

Secular Guy said...

GM,

My sentiments exactly, which is why one of my proposed solutions is letting Dec. 25 remain a holiday but changing it to a secularly oriented festival. However, if this were implemented, there's a risk that Christians might try to "recapture" the date again and change it back to an officially sanctioned Christmas Day.

Maria Barker said...

Well, the christians "captured" the holiday in the first place! People were already celebrating solstice at that time of year, and the church just apropriated it to "ease" new or forced converts into the new religion. Same with Easter, which was a pagan fertility celebration, then the christians took it.

I find it mildly irritating to see "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" everywhere. I would not mind if in fact he were the reason. But he wasn't. If the bible is accurate at all, and if he existed at all, then he was born in the Spring, not midwinter. Many more knowledgeable christians acknowledge this, and explain that "We just CELEBRATE the birth December 25".

Fact is, the "Season" existed for millenia before the "Reason"!

Thanks for letting me spout

Secular Guy said...

You're welcome, Maria. It certainly is mind-boggling how Christians pile myth on top of myth to justify their beliefs. But I suspect that's also the case with most religions whose adherents think that by wishing, this will make it so.

No 2 Religion said...

The chances of congress overturning the 1870 law making Christmas a legal holiday are about the same as congress removing god from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Secular Guy said...

N0 2 Religion.

Thanks for your reply. I feel honored that you took the trouble of digging into the archives and reading one of my older posts.

Most likely there won't be a change during my lifetime in the status of Christmas as a federal holiday. But further down the road, who knows?