There were those early settlers who thought Christmas should be celebrated simply, with a low-key church service. There were those Puritans who thought that it shouldn’t be celebrated at all, and that those who did should be punished. And then there were those who spent it in wine, dissipation and “frollicking.” Use your imagination.
The “modern” Christmas joined us in the 1800s, bringing with it Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, decorated cards and the exchange of elaborate presents.
This was the idealized Christmas of nostalgia, Currier and Ives prints and pristine snowfalls. Even though it never quite existed that way, it was nice, with a helpful assist from Hollywood, to believe it did.
Even so, this happy picture brought with it the first mutterings about the over commercialization of what was meant to be a religious observance.
But, just as our colonial ancestors quarreled over the proper way to observe, or not to observe, Christmas, we, their descendants — as custodians of this marvelous country — are at it again, skirmishing with each other over courthouse lawns and public parks.
For 50 years, Loudoun County, an upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., had a creche and a Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn. But then, invoking freedom of religion and expression — trust us Americans to invoke the Constitution and “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the same breath — came a mannequin of Luke Skywalker, a skeleton Santa Claus mounted on a cross to protest consumerism, an atheist tree decorated with tinsel and atheist admonitions and a parody of the Nativity put up by something calling itself the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
There is no danger of anything arising from the courthouse lawn with such a clatter that Clement Moore would leap from his bed to see what was the matter, because there is no room for Old Saint Nick and his eight tiny reindeer to set down the sleigh.
Tulsa was to have held two holiday parades — same day, same time, several blocks apart — because the city dropped the word “Christmas” from the title of its annual Parade of Lights.
Hoping to avoid controversy, Santa Monica, Calif., went to a lottery system to allocate display places in a local park; for the past 57 years, 14 of the 21 spaces had gone to a coalition of local churches. Last year, the atheists got all but three of the places.
Yet this noisy and selfish edging and elbowing for space in the public square does not detract nor diminish from the transcendent message of the day: “Peace on Earth and good will toward men.” (Complete details in the Book Of Luke.)