How Christmas Unites All Americans

There is something special about the Christmas season. Even Americans who identify with other faiths or no denomination enjoy celebrating this holiday with their friends and loved ones.

Christmas music is playing everywhere, Christmas carols and concerts are performed by school groups and symphonies, and the streets are decorated with Christmas lights. People from all walks of life celebrate the themes of peace and goodwill.

But Christmas Day in America, at least since 1870, has always been both a Christian celebration and a secular holiday. That year, President Ulysses S. Grant established four federal holidays that continue to be celebrated today: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and July 4th.

Grant believed that these four holidays would bring unity to a fractured earth. The President is best known for leading Union armies to victory during the Civil War. Grant chose the phrase “Let’s have peace” as his presidential campaign slogan and sought ways to heal the wounds between North and South. By choosing Christmas as a federal holiday, Grant was not only trying to promote unity among Christians, but among all Americans.

It may all sound like a dry story, but it’s important to understand why Grant made Christmas a federal holiday and why the holidays are important now. Too often the culture views them as just another day off and never looks below the surface.

Holidays are important because they declare something unique and special about who we are as a country. We honor certain days that celebrate important events and unite us. We are closing the stock exchange, banks, stores and offices. For at least that day, even the GDP and the economy are secondary to taking a break and celebrating something big – something that unites us as Americans.

Many people forget that Christmas, like any other holiday, united the country in a common celebration of shared values.

On an obvious level, at Christmas, Americans get together, send greeting cards, attend school performances with our children, give gifts to friends and family, and take care of the less fortunate. Christmas is a season of giving.

The central Christmas themes of hope, peace, and goodwill, while biblical in origin, are universal and serve to bring people of all faiths together. When we say “Merry Christmas,” we express our best wishes to others in a spirit of gratitude, commemorating the coming of the Savior sent for us.

Yet publicly celebrating Christmas simply transcends the best wishes. He recognizes the very idea and ideals of America.

Our Declaration of Independence made a unique affirmation: “We take these truths for granted, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty. and the pursuit of Joy. ”

Despite what some claim today, our country was not founded on the idea of ​​power or patriarchy or oppression or the sword. It was founded on a noble idea – that the human person is the gift of a creator God and endowed with inviolable rights.

America is said to be a “Judeo-Christian nation” not because everyone is a Jew or a Christian, but because our founding principles were based on the Judeo-Christian proposition, namely that our dignity and our rights are not. not from the government but from a creator – the same God who came to us in a manger in Bethlehem.

These universal principles and beliefs about the human person, the source of our rights and the ties that unite us make the idea of ​​a free country possible. America proudly asserts that you don’t have to be a Christian or practice any particular faith to be an American, but it recognizes that without God our demands for freedom and our rights mean nothing.

Grant hoped to unify the country by recognizing Christmas as a national day of prayer and celebration. Christmas is indeed a glorious holiday that commemorates the birth of Christ, but its celebration as a public holiday also reminds us of our identity as a nation.

That is why on Christmas morning the streets are quiet. Our churches are open, but the government is closed. On Christmas Day, we sing with the herald angels, not glory to the president, but to the newborn king.

Mary FioRito writes for EDIFY, the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, and the Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

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