and few things illustrate that better than a series of blog discussions the last three weeks concerning "The War On Christmas" and the similar humanist/theist struggle within the UUA. There are two issues in play here; the first I will address is Christmas.
Contrary to the belief of many on both sides of the debate, Christmas was not made a Federal holiday to assert the ascendancy of Christianity in America. Had that been the intent, surely Easter, the most holy of Christian holidays, would have been chosen instead. Why did President Grant pick Christmas, a holiday that had been actively condemned by most Christian churches- even outlawed in many places- and only recently partially rehabilitated by an English novelist and an American poet?
Consider the condition the US was in in 1870. For several of the previous five years, the Civil War had been over only in terms of massed armies; the hatreds ran deep- Lincoln's assassination had been celebrated in many Confederate households. Lawlessness abounded; President Grant had to ask for Federal law enforcement to control the Ku Klux Klan and bring some semblance of order, and to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves. It took until 1870 to bring the last Confederate state back formally into the Union.
Grant wanted something to bring the country back together. It couldn't be a victory celebration; that would have made things worse. What was left that both sides could still have in common? Christmas was chosen as the least controversial; less "Northern" than Thanksgiving, less political than the 4th of July, and especially poignant as celebrating a man of peace. It was a public cry of "Can't we all just get along?" There's a short Discovery channel video about it here
That's the real "reason for the season"... the attempt to find something to reconcile a people divided. The real reason Christmas is a greater tradition in America than in many other countries is not because the US is a "Christian Nation", but because Christmas was used to bring us back together after one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Families that had been separated for years had a "reason" to reunite. The religious nature of the holiday was the excuse needed to swallow bitter pride, to forgive. Had the holiday been secular, it couldn't have overcome the hostility; had it been any more religious, it would have raised new divisions. It was just religious enough.
And so I say to Bill O'Reilly, and to the Freedom From Religion people alike: let's put the Peace back in Christmas.
Next: the UU divide.