The real “War on Christmas” was waged in the America of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Puritans who settled the New England colonies thought the holiday was decadent, with too many pagan rituals, such as decking the halls with holly. Celebrating Christmas was outlawed in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681.
The tide turned in the 19th century. Clement Clark Moore’s poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published in 1823 and became a hit. In 1836, Alabama made Christmas a public holiday, a first in the nation. Other states followed and President Ulysses S. Grant, in a move to unite the country after the Civil War, in 1870 declared Christmas Day a federal holiday.
The holiday’s history in early America makes a footnote of today’s silliness over people taking offense when someone wishes them “happy holidays.”
Whether you are Christian or not, if your Christmas includes a visit to church or a more secular celebration, or even if you don’t celebrate or observe Christmas in any way, the day off for many is a chance to catch your breath, count your blessings, spend time with others and make time to be mindful of the world around you as winter sets in.
Some in our community feel more stressed than blessed at this time of year. We hear heartwarming anecdotes about people having their layaway bills paid for by strangers in December, or gifts mysteriously appearing in people’s homes. And there are so many charitable works performed by many in the City of Good Neighbors. That’s one of the reasons the News Neediest Fund is in its 37th year of helping less well-off families to get by. The generosity of Western New Yorkers powers the fund, which last year distributed gifts or food items to 8,300 children and 5,700 families.
The toys collected in this year’s drive were distributed for Christmas, but there are still hungry mouths to feed. Monies raised goes toward funding holiday meals through the Food Bank of Western New York. Some 12,000 families were provided with holiday meals last year thanks to the News Neediest Fund. Financial donations may still be made online at buffalonews.com/newsneediest, or checks sent by mail to The News Neediest Fund, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240-9873.
Doing for others is one way to establish real connections with our neighbors, an alternative to the often unsatisfying promise of community made by social media apps.
Franklin D. Roosevelt started a tradition of American presidents making statements to the nation at Christmas time. In an address on Dec. 24, 1941, as World War II was raging, Roosevelt preached unity: “Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies – more than any other day or any other symbol. Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere.”