Sarah Palin, Clement Clarke Moore, and the Villainous Hordes of Thuggish Carolers: The Story of the Real War on Christmas


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

103 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Great article. Christmas underwent a similar domestication in Europe during the same time, even though Christmas was only banned in the UK from 1645 to 1660. Before the 19th century, as you noted, Christmas was more of winter carnival type holiday with the religious service rather than the family-centered holiday it is today. It was probably like a really wild holiday office party but done in public settings.

    Whats interesting is how some of the wilder aspects of Christmas celebrations are coming back. Santacon, the annual inebriated march of people in Santa costumes, is about as close as you could get to the pre-domesticated Christmas celebrations.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    An interesting thing to think about is whether or not the domestication of Christmas was a good idea. When Christmas was a holiday of mild public rioting, the authorities thought allowed it because it acted as pressure valve of sort or at least they thought it did. There isn’t really a pressure valve for the sort of emotions that wild Christmas was supposed to act as a temporary release for. Sporting events and rock concerts are kind form a similar function but people aren’t really allowed to get loose. Maybe modern society could use some occasions where some sort of mass public wildness is allowed.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This is more OT and its mainly directed at Will but I think this would make a fascinating link for Linky Friday. Its the story of the Original Welfare queen.

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The “Urban Cowboy” experiment to replace Christmas was promising for a season but didn’t prove to have anything even close to staying power.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This post is brilliant, simply amazing. I had no idea about most of this stuff other than that apples were grown as intoxicants. Are you sure about that last bit in footnote 3 — Federal employees outside of Washington had to work on Christmas until 1968?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


      As a resident of New York state, living in the prime growing areas of the Hudson Valley, I can attest to the majesty that is hard cider. A local spot near me makes a dry hopped cider, which maintains all of the amazingness of cider but cuts the sweetness with just enough hoppiness.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Actually its more complicated than that, Without refrigeration and modern sanitation drinking water was unsafe, as was milk. Hard Cider and Wine have enough alcohol to protect against bacteria. Thus hard apple cider was the safe thing to drink around the year. Recall that one president died in office from drinking milk, Zach Taylor. Water of course was unsafe in many cases because the well might be polluted, or the stream you get the water from might be polluted upstream.
      It is sort of similar to why food served in warmer climes is more spice, because the spices hide the potential bad taste of slightly spoiled food. (Plus pepper and the like are warm climate plants)Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      And nowadays, it’s pretty difficult to find proper cider apples. You basically need to find a neglected orchard where trees from seed haven’t been fought back.

      My friend’s mom has a cider pear tree in her yard – we were over there processing fruit from her other trees, and she went to stop me biting into one – “Oh don’t eat those – that’s just an ornamental pear tree”. I bit into one and my eyes lit up, realizing what the (quite astringent and tannin-y) fruit would be good for. It made some very nice cider indeed.Report

  6. Avatar Patrick says:

    Additional note about apples: they weren’t made so much just to “get trashed” (although that’s a popular side benefit) as they were “produce drinkable liquid”. As opposed to water which was usually filled with all sorts of crap that would give you dysentery or cholera or something.

    The history of beer is similar.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Patrick says:

      I remember going to the Guinness factory in Dublin with my sister once. It’s like the Irish Disneyland. And I was amazed to see that in the early part of the 20th century, when the Liffey’s waters were so fetid, that the stuff was marketed to young parents as a kind of baby formula.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Re: Irish Disneyland

        Two towns over from me, the town of Warwick has an annual apple fest. By day, it is parades and families apple picking. By nightfall, it becomes some sort of Mardi Gras cider shitshow. People travel from hours away to attend. The whole area bogs down with traffic. It’s insane. Apples man… fishin’ apples.Report

  7. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Great history lesson, Tod!Report

  8. Typically great piece, Tod.

    The whole WOC brouhaha makes me seriously wonder if the people within that bubble know how ridiculous it makes them look to anyone on the outside of it. I simply don’t get it.

    Oh, and true fact: I once lived on the very block where Clement Clarke Moore wrote his famous poem.Report

    • Avatar aaron david in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      I doubt that anyone who lives in a bubble, any bubble, realizes how ridiculous they look. Thats just the nature of bubbles.Report

    • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      How ridiculous does it really make them look considering the bank they make off of it. The WOC is a cash cow of the highest order.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Scott Fields says:

        For real.
        I need to look into ghostwriting books for Palin.
        Here’s a little something I came up with on short notice:

        Vlad and Me
        A heart-warming tale of Palin befriending a Russkie while out hunting baby white snow seals one day, and the experimentations inspired by Vlad the Impaler which followed. Trade paper. 225 pages. $22.95.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Christmas, despite the name, strikes me as a fairly accessible holiday for pretty much anybody. It has pretty much exactly as much religious content as you choose to give it while, at the same time, retaining its whole “let’s eat a lot, drink a lot, and give each other presents” attitude. Heck, the less religious it is, the more of a bacchanalian potential it has.

    It’s got all kinds of lovely pagan symbolism, it’s got the season of rebirth thing going on, and it’s probably the most accessible holiday ever. (Seriously: is there one with a better track record of being adopted?)

    If I were to try to create a holiday where everybody had the day off, everybody was expected to engage in as little commerce as possible, everybody was expected to interact with friends and family in their free time and invite people who were alone into their homes… I wouldn’t start with Thanksgiving. I’d start with Christmas.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      As a Jewish person, I firmly reject the idea of celebrating Christmas. This is largely an issue of cultural and ethic pride.

      There are plenty of Jews who intermarry or don’t intermarry and like to celebrate Christmas. I have friends who put up trees even if they are not intermarried.

      But to me the “Christmas loving Jew” is a bit of someone with an inferiority complex.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        But to me the “Christmas loving Jew” is a bit of someone with an inferiority complex.

        Self hating?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Not necessarily but potentially.

        I grew up in a very Jewish suburb of a very Jewish city. I feel secure in my Judaism because public schools and many private ones close down for the high holidays. I think Jews who grow up yearning for Christmas feel more of an othering.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think Jews who grow up yearning for Christmas feel more of an othering.

        Is this necessarily true, though? It seems like you’re assigning a motivation that there’s a good chance isn’t there. Why is there necessarily something bad about someone whose parents identify as Jewish doing what feels right to him/her, even if that disagrees with the views of the parents?Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well, let me reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas with all your heart. For one thing, Santa is actually Odin, a Viking warrior god.

        That’s why the best and most authentic Christmas movies are still “Die Hard” and the sequels.

        And yes, Santa is as white as Frosty the Snowman. His name is Bavarian and he lives at the North Pole. An ethnic Santa would start his run at midnight, and be gunned down by a panic stricken homeowner or in jail by 12:08 AM.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to NewDealer says:

        Is it really that they have an inferiority complex as a person on the whole, ND, or might it just be that their Judaism doesn’t define as much of their identity as it does yours, or that they don’t view (their) Judaism as being as culturally limiting as you view yours as being? For you to conclude that these practices speak about their weakness as people seems to rest on an assumption/conviction that they do or should understand Judaism in approximately the same way as you, and the issue is just a lack of security-in-self to act in a way as to be fully committed to it. But if they’re just acting out a different Judaism from the one you are (maybe a completely insufficient one in your view, to be sure!), then the issue might not be so much one of personal hardware as it is just what cultural software is being run on it.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to NewDealer says:

        But Roman state paganism has such beautiful traditions.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot9 in reply to NewDealer says:

        New Dealer,

        What about yoga?

        I’m asking because of the controversy that Dreher raised when he said he wouldn’t let his kids do yoga because the calisthenics cannot be separated from the religious Hindu aspects, and a Christian shouldn’t do Hindu stuff. (And this is now a legal issue in India, IIRC Sullivan saying.)

        That at least superficially seems analogous to your idea that the secular aspects of Christmas cannot be separated from the religious position.

        Would you be okay with doing yoga? On Christmas? While meditating? And suing for libel (Scientology)? And looking at tarot cards? While whirling like a dervish? (Which I do when I run out of booze.)

        I’ll tell you that as an atheist, I worry a bit about this too. (Not trying to compare our positions, just trying to be helpful.) I avoid talk of Christmas at home and don’t like Santa. But I like holidays and pine trees with lights and presents and a big feast. I think of it as the holiday season or something like that and call it such.

        Whether that is me celebrating Christmas is a matter of semantics. The question is what is the reference of “Christmas” and what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for the proper use of “Christmas.” But semantic disputes are useless and stupid and should never get in the way of having fun and connecting with friends, family, and neighbors.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to NewDealer says:

        If you’re Jewish, the time-honored way to celebrate Christmas is at a Chinese restaurant.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      Basically my stance comes down to 2-4-6-8 I will not assimilate.

      I’m a Jew. There is nothing wrong or inferior about being Jewish or any other non-Christian group. We have our own history and traditions and customs. I see no reason to take on Christmas even in its most secular and close to pagan forms because doing so implies that something is lacking in my own people’s customs and holidays.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        There is nothing wrong or inferior about being Jewish or any other non-Christian group.

        But likewise there should be nothing laudatory about being a Jew either, right?

        We have our own history and traditions and customs.

        Are you implying that that history and those traditions carry extra special weight when evaluating the religious identifications of other people? Or just that you guys have them? If it’s the latter, then you’re just part of the Religious-Identification Club, but not necessarily a privileged member.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


        Do you exchange gifts on Hanukkah? My understanding is that that custom largely came about to make up for the sense of wanting arrived at when Hanukkah fell too close to Christmas and Christian kids were ripping open boxes full of toys and Jewish kids were solemnly lighting candles.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’m saying that they are of equal weight. I see no special reason to celebrate Christmas.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to NewDealer says:

        I respect your desire to not celebrate Christmas for any reason (or lack of reason, even). It’s absolutely up to you. I do find it hard to understand the idea that because other cultures have different traditions and celebrations, adopting one of them into your own life or your own culture necessarily means yours is deficient.

        Maybe it’s the part of me that buys into part of the mythology of American identity, but we live in a cosmopolitan/globalized world where one of the positives of our travel and communications technology is that people can find things that resonate with them in many cultures. Nobody’s obligated to take on any other culture’s attitudes, customs, or celebrations, but many of us have found value in doing so. To an outsider, NewDealer’s response to a fairly harmless holiday like Christmas seems more than a bit on the defensive side.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

        Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.

        If you’re Jewish and know anything about the history of the last two millennia, that is nothing to celebrate.Report

      • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to NewDealer says:

        Mike Schilling, I think Christmas has long ceased to be about Jesus. I’m an agnostic, as is one of my parents, and we’ve always loved Christmas even though neither one of us finds much “truth” in Christianity. As another poster pointed out, there are parts of the world where Christianity was never a very strong influence that have taken up Christmas practices of one kind or another.

        The reality is that the history of all religions is rife with change and syncretism. ND’s version of Judaism is not fixed in stone, and in fact, the history of the religion shows evidence of ample borrowing from other cultures, especially the language, alphabet, and calendar of Babylon, to name a few.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s so little about Jesus that it combines his name and that of the religious rite of symbolically ingesting him. It’s also so little about Jesus that acknowledging the existence of other winter-time holidays is called an attack on Christianity. And so little about Jesus that the majority of Christmas songs are all about him.

        If you want to celebrate it anyway, knock yourself out. But don’t tell me to ignore the facts.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


        Thanks for your response. Growing up in Teaneck, most of my friends were Jewish. We used to joke about the “fun” difference between Christian and Jewish holidays. The former were largely about food and gifts while the latter were often solemn affairs. For Catholics, our holiest day is technically Good Friday — the day that Jesus died. Yet we call it “Good” because it proved his love to his people yada yada yada so it is still celebratory.
        To a man, the Jewish kids were jealous of how fun our holidays were (though we Gentiles were jealous of their bar/bat mitzvahs).

        As a grown up, I now see how divorced our modern tradition of Santa and gifts, the Easter Bunny and baskets are from the actual faith. If anything, they appear to be explicitly about “selling” holidays to otherwise uninterested parties. So it’s no wonder that they can present such difficulty to Jewish folks like yourself.

        Today I identify as athiest (though fully recognize my Catholic roots). My wife similarly is a non-believer, though she was raised Protestant and Jewish (complete with a Bat Mitzvah). We have opted to do “secular Christmas” for two main reasons: 1) it was and remains an important tradition in our families and 2) we hope to focus not on Baby Jesus but instead on ideas of family, the spirit of giving, etc.

        Oddly enough, I have done a complete 180 vis-a-vis Catholic and Jewish holidays. The former feel like Hallmark days largely divorced from faith while the latter seem more “real”… Steeped in far stronger senses of community, thankfulness, and togetherness. It’s easy to get people together when presents are promised; but when people gather with as much vigor (albeit manifested differently) to honor the dead or atone for sins or remember those who fought for their continued existence… THAT feels like a real holiday. Even though I reject the “magic and mysticism” of faith, part of me would rather Mayo light a menorah as he expresses thanks for his existence than rip open presents as he expresses thanks it’s not a sweater.

        Maturation is a weird thing…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.

        Not in my household, it doesn’t. It’s more of a “did you get the items for the nephews” holiday… and, of course, the joys of what happens when you did. (Last Christmas, we got the Fisher Price castle with the dragon thing at the entry for the nephew and, when he opened it, he yelled (at the top of his lungs) “I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED THIS”.)

        Presents are fun. Feasts are fun. Decorations are fun. The Christians who are complaining about “the reason for the season” are complaining about the emphasis on presents, feasts, and decorations… but they’re no more “right” about what Christmas “really” means than the person who sees it as an excuse to buy a bottle of wine for each of his (good) co-workers. If you see it as a solemn day to reflect upon Jesus Christ, then that’s what it is. If you see it as a blandly festive day to delineate the days when winter is still novel and nice and when winter has overstayed its welcome, then that’s what it is.

        And you have as much power to define it as anybody.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

        Then next year I’m celebrating You Know Who’s birthday, as a celebration of universal brotherhood, to take it away from the people who celebrate it for all the wrong reasons,Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do it this year! That’s what I do more or less. I don’t think anyone’s doing it for the wrongr reasons exactly and I certainly don’t make a point of telling them so, but I definitely think a lot of people miss what I think is a very accessible point about what can be seen as a secular seasonal celebration for everyone (if they want) in addition to a religious one for many, which is that we can either choose to make this a time of general celebration, cheer, and good will – or we can just not have any of that in a shared, general way. (We can say that all times should be like that, but in practice we know that if we do, they won’t be.) There are a lot of things about Christmastime that are obviously religious, or indeed Christian, such as Nativity scenes, but there are a lot of things that are not Christian or pre-Christian, such as lighting things up, in particular houses and trees and shrubbery, which people can enjoy totally irrespective of religion. There is obviously a lot of Christmas music, yo address your other example, that is about Jesus, but there is also a lot that is really just about the time of year and the spirit of cheer and togetherness that many have come to associate with it in a wistful, idealistic version of the lives they’d like to have. A person can get with that kind of thing or not as they choose, but IMO it would be a shame if they made the choice based on the association that it has with religion.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do you celebrate Thanksgiving?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        to take it away from the people who celebrate it for all the wrong reasons

        I don’t think that you can ever take it away. You can pretty much only make it your own.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to NewDealer says:

        As a Jew, I feel similar to ND. I’d never have a tree or any other major indicator of Christmas in my home. Not my religion; not my customs. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it.

        That said, now that we live in Greensboro, we do participate in our neighborhood tradition of hanging lighted chicken-wire balls from the big trees in our front yard. They came with the house and it’s as much a show of neighborhood solidarity as anything else.Report

    • Avatar Groucho in reply to Jaybird says:

      Apparently, that’s exactly what the Japanese have done. Completely adopted all the symbolism and tradition of modern (american) Christmas, but of course with little of the population actually being of the Christian faith.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Groucho says:

        I’m pretty sure that eating KFC is not a modern American Christmas tradition. Getting Japanese people to celebrate Christmas was probably one of the greatest marketing campaigns in the history of commerce.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Groucho says:

        Another example is Singapore, which if you go in Dec is full of Christmas decorations (at least in the shopping areas). This then makes a 2 month holiday season, starting with Christmas and ending with Chinese New Year, both being occasions for the merchants to seperate folks from their money.Report

  10. Avatar NewDealer says:


    When we were kids and you are largely correct.Report

  11. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Has anyone ever asked the right-wing War on Christmas types about the Puritan response to Christmas? If yes, what was the response?Report

  12. Avatar Groucho says:

    Great post. Interesting timing, too, I just came across this about reenactors of what I had previously considered the *definitive* original war on Christmas.Report

  13. Avatar Glyph says:

    But in the days when people actually went a’ wassailin’, it was done as a thuggish extortion with threat of violence.

    Modern Christmases are made immeasurably better by the relative absence of wassailants.Report

  14. Avatar greginak says:

    If Santa would just muscle up and deck out his elves to be like Legolas there would never be a WOC. It’s all an image problem and Santa is to nice. He needs a good arming himself montage. Ever notice there is no war on Krampus……ah huh….no one going to mess with the K-Dawg.Report

  15. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    This is a fantastic post, Tod, thanks for it. I believe that even if humans hadn’t evolved to anthropomorphize everything in the world and hence believe in gods, I still think there would have been celebrations of this kind in the northern (& southern?) parts of the temperate zones in the dead of winter to help get through the gloom and cold, and to make use of the perishable parts of the harvest. That’s the spirit in which I celebrate the fall and winter holidays as an atheist, though I respect the religious significance different faiths have attached to these ubiquitous celebrations, including that of my own family.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    it was done as a thuggish extortion with threat of violence

    So, not that far from Pat Buchanan’s idea of a merry Christmas.Report

  17. Avatar North says:

    Stellar post Tod. I always wonder, who are these secular liberal bugaboos that the WOC crusaders do battle against?Report

  18. Avatar dhex says:

    great post tod!Report

  19. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    Tremendously well-written, Tod. Not to diss any of the other authors here, but you have a wonderful clarity in your writing. Reading it is easy and pleasurable, and the ideas communicate well.

    Re: Apples. A couple of years ago I was on an apple farm, and noticed that the trees were nearly two-dimensional–as you faced a tree from the row between the lines of trees, branches grew from the left and right of each tree, but not from the front and back. This allows them to plant rows closer together, and move their picking equipment between the rows more easily. It’s logical and efficient, but two dimensional trees look really weird.Report

  20. Avatar aaron david says:

    Although I am not a fan of fruit, this is a great piece Tod.Report

  21. Avatar NewDealer says:


    That’s fine but didn’t you also grow up in a religiously Christian household? Christianity is part of your history and family. Secular Christmas is close to you. I did not grow up in a Christian household. It is not part of my history. Why am I obligated to celebrate secular Christmas?


    I should add that Hannukah is usually a very low key celebration compared to Christmas (secular or otherwise). Yes we give presents but I always knew they came from my parents. We had a nice dinner and exchanged gifts and lit candles. That is about it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

      Why am I obligated to celebrate secular Christmas?

      You’re not. It’s no skin off my nose whether or not you do. Just know that, over here, we’ll be enjoying feasts and present exchanges. If you don’t want to participate, don’t sign up.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        Us over here too. Lots of feasting. Lots of presenting. (Heh.) Absolutely no religion.

        Christmas in our home is Mindless Diversions approved, even tho we still call it “Christmas”.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


      As I understand it (and please, please, PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong), Christians and Jews tend to celebrate holidays very differently — especially so if we look at how the former celebrates what are now the two biggest holidays on the calendar: Christmas and Easter. Some of this has to do with the commercialization of those two, which is why they stand out and differ so much from other major Christian and Catholic holidays such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Lent, and Advent. But I also think some of it has to do with the history of the different faiths, cultures, and people. Judaism has, for much of its history, been marginalized and often seems under attack, with its destruction imminent. When I’ve attended Passover seders and Hanukkah menorah lightings and spoken with Jewish friends about their holidays, I always got the sense that major parts of observing (which itself is more often used than the word “celebrating” with regards to them and it seems to me appropriately so) them are a remembrance of the struggles of the Jewish people, an appreciation of their struggles and perseverance, and a call for perspective in accordance with this. You compare this to present bonanza and gift-giving fat men and anthropomorphic bunnies that poop chocolate eggs and it doesn’t seem a contest for which sort of holiday children might prefer. And so much of our connection with holidays is related to our experience with them as children.

      Yet, as I’ve grown older and I look at the ways we tend to celebrate Christmas and Easter and I look at the way Jewish people tend to observe/celebrate their holidays, I’m actually more drawn to the latter. Not the faith aspect (I don’t believe any more than God made that oil last 8 days than I do that his son was birthed in a manger) but what the days themselves represent and what followers are called upon to do in reverence of them.

      tl;dr: Comparing Jewish and Christian holidays almost feels like apples and oranges. The trappings of each are going to appeal to different people. As I’ve grown older, I find myself more drawn to those of the former than the latter.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        “They tried to kill us and we’re still here. Let’s eat something.”

        This is not *THAT* different from “Let’s eat something” from the outside looking in but the speeches given before the meal are important.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think there is an inherent appreciation simply for being able to come together because of the “They tried to kill us” part that isn’t always there for others.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

        I don’t see that big a difference in how my christian/father’s side vs. mothers and current in laws/jewish families celebrate. The stories are different of course but i think they have all been happy family gatherings based on stuffing our pie holes. My guess is a lot of it is based on the individual family.Report

  22. Avatar Brooke says:

    I think part of the problem here is assuming one’s own background or experience is the normative version of whatever religious identity one has. At best, each one of us is living a snapshot of a tradition (if we’re religious at all) whose history is filled with changing doctrines, practices, and celebrations. What’s usual for us would probably appall historical and future practitioners of most religious traditions.

    We’re increasingly living in an age where religious institutions lack the power to enforce orthodox versions of their faiths, and that’s a good thing. Religion is an individual practice best tailored to the preferences and needs of each person, not dictated by a self-proclaimed authority or a talking head on television.Report

  23. Avatar Matty says:

    It’s funny to read about the drunken history of Christmas today of all days. You see *this* is what we call black Friday, which is a very different beast to the November gift sale Americans call by that name. No the British black Friday is the last Friday before Christmas and is noted for mass drunken revelry of a type that you wouldn’t want to share with your gran and little kiddies (unless you have a rather atypical family). Rumour has it the name originated from it being a ‘black day’ for the police who have to control the crowds.Report

  24. Avatar Scott Fields says:

    Thanks for this post, Tod. It was chock full of things I’d not known before reading it.

    I love when that happens!Report

  25. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    On occasion my four year enjoys the show VeggieTales. They have a Christmas special that tells a story quite different from yours, but I like yours better because it doesn’t make me want to tear my own hair out. I’m anxious to read the books you mentioned above, and, as always, thank you for a well written piece.Report

  26. [Edited on account of being the weirdest and most oddly targeted piece of spam I’ve ever seen here. -tk]Report

  27. Avatar Shazbot9 says:

    What an awesome post.

    Here’s a prediction. 100 years from now, the holiday will still be called “Christmas,” but many people will only have the vague sense that the holiday partially originated in Christian religious tradition, and it will be celebrated by atheists religious believers of all stripes as a sort of winter version of Thanksgiving.

    This will be the end of the war on Christmas. A total rout.Report

    • Avatar Pyre in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      That’s true.

      The idea that nobody should have to work on Christmas will also be seen as “quaint” and a throwback to a time when Christmas had more cultural significance than Valentine’s Day or any other Hallmark Holiday.Report

  28. Avatar Shazbot9 says:


    What did Christmas look like in Europe (or parts of Europe) in the 18th and 19th century?

    Clearly the puritans banished it. But did European immigrants bring it here?

    I get that the current Santa thing started with the poem you mentioned, but didn’t Saint Nick get used as a Dutch Christmas icon, Sinterklaas, or something? And didn’t the Brits have Father Christmas (a pre-Santa) for a long time before the 19th century?

    Does this complicate your story?Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      Sinterklaas was and remains celebrated his own feast day, December 6, not on Christmas. During the Protestant reformation, celebrations of his feast day (and celebrations of just about anything, really) were variously discouraged or outright banned.

      He returned as a more secular-consumerist figure mainly beginning in the 19th Century, much the same way Christmas did elsewhere.Report

  29. Avatar ktward says:

    While Palin is an arguably relevant feature of US politics, I’m fairly sure that no one has ever accused her of being an actual historian. O’Reilly, otoh, fancies himself an historian and, to my perpetual perplexity, a remarkable number of pundits and FNC viewers think he really is one. Must have something to do with his book titles.Report

  30. Avatar Mrs. Likko says:

    Fabulous piece Mr. Kelly. Very interesting and enlightening. I think some hard cider is in order.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Mrs. Likko says:

      Hey, Mrs. Likko! What a pleasant treat to see you round these parts. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Mrs. Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Oh Mr. Kelly! I wish I was half as articulate as the amazing writers here, if I were, I’d comment more. I find it difficult to take feelings and ideas that are like butterflies fluttering about, capturing them in a way that gives them the freedom and justice they deserve. You all have figured it out, so clearly it can be done. Maybe in 2014 I’ll find my way. 🙂Report

  31. Avatar Michelle says:

    Great piece, Tod. It annoys me that so many of these defenders of “tradition” have so little historical knowledge of the traditions they’re defending.Report