Yes, America, you’re a secular nation

By Karen Backman, political commentary

  • Friday, December 21, 2007 5:34pm
  • Opinion

By Karen Backman, political commentary

America is, indeed, a secular nation, and all of you can rejoice well in that because you would not be saying Merry Christmas or anything of that sort if our nation had gone the route of a devoutly Christian America.

There would be no Christmas trees, no Christmas merriment, no exchanging of gifts and good cheer, no holly, no mistletoe, no Christmas carols.

This is how Christmas was celebrated in New England:

The holy days of the English Church were a stench to the Puritan nostrils, and their public celebration was at once rigidly forbidden by the laws of New England. New holidays were not quickly evolved, and the sober gatherings for matters of church and state for a time took their place. The hatred of “wanton Bacchanallian Christmasses” spent throughout England, as Cotton said, in “revelling, dicing, carding, masking, mumming, consumed in compotations, in interludes, in excess of wine, in mad mirth,” was the natural reaction of intelligent and thoughtful minds against the excesses of a festival that had ceased to be a Christian holiday, but was dominated by a lord of misrule who did not hesitate to invade the churches in time of service, in his noisy revels and sports. English churchmen long ago revolted also against such Christmas observance.

Of the first Pilgrim Christmas we know but little, save that it was spent, as was many a later one, in work.

The Christmas season we enjoy would not exist at all. Dec. 25 would just be another dreary day of work, unless it fell on a Sunday.

A Sunday, Dec. 25, would be mostly spent on a hard bench in church listening to harsh sermons about sin and hell.

Not a day of love and peace and goodwill to all. Not at all.

So, this holiday tide, let us give thanks that the United States of America is truly a secular nation. Because of our national secularism we have the freedom to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving — all those joyous holidays for families to get together and enjoy bounteous meals.

The candy canes of Christmas because America is a secular nation.

The chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs because America is a secular nation.

According to Alice Morse Earle in “Customs and Fashions in Old New England,” published in 1903:

“By 1659 the Puritans had grown to hate Christmas more and more; it was, to use Shakespeare’s words, ‘the bug that feared them all.’ The very name smacked to them of incense, stole, and monkish jargon; any person who observed it as a holiday by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way was to pay five shillings fine, so desirous were they to ‘beate down every sprout of Episcopacie.’ Judge Sewall watched jealously the feeling of the people with regard to Christmas, and noted with pleasure on each succeeding year the continuance of common traffic throughout the day. Such entries as this show his attitude: Dec. 25, 1685. Carts come to town and shops open as usual. Some somehow observe the day, but are vexed I believe that the body of people profane it, and blessed be God no authority yet to compel them to keep it.”

So, thanks to our secular founders, we enjoy the Christmas excesses of Episcopalians and Lutherans and all those other religions who found it appropriate to celebrate Christmas and the other holidays of the winter season.

The wassails, the right to sing “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Italian carols, French carols, Swedish carols, the carols of every nation, the music we love at Christmas time. Without being fined five shillings.

Good grief! Think of it. No “White Christmas” crooned by Bing Crosby!

Even if one were a hide-bound secularist, one would have to give thanks to some deity for Bing Crosby and “White Christmas.” And, our secular founders, of course.

Merry Christmas to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison! All you wonderful secular guys who made Christmas in America possible! And Bing Crosby!

Federal Way resident Karen Backman can be reached at

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