“Merry Christmas” is Back!

In the checkout lane of the supermarket the woman checking out in front of me wished the checkout person “Merry Christmas.” She smiled and sort of blushed, then said, “Remember when we couldn’t say that?” The checker and the bagger both smiled, and at the same time said back to the woman, “Merry Christmas.” Walking away with her shopping bag, the woman turned back to the checkout counter and said, “You know, I never stopped saying it, and I never will.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Over the last decade in America, we all became more inclusive of other cultures and more respectful of the way different races and cultures celebrated this time of year. There was a trend to avoid the phrase, or at least to revise it to “Happy Christmas”, or “Happy Holidays.”

But in 2016, on a blustery, snowy day in New Hampshire, Donald Trump was in full campaign mode before a cheering crowd packed into the SNHU ice hockey arena in Manchester. He’d been talking about supporting the military and police officers when he stopped, pointed his finger at the audience, and shouted, “And you are going to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ again!” The crowd roared, and the rest is history.

The origin of the phrase “Merry Christmas” is a bit sketchy, but it may have been first used in a non-religious Christmas song in the 1600s that we all know and sing: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In 1843, Charles Dickens used the same phrase in his novel “A Christmas Carol” and it was used as the sentiment on the first-ever commercially printed Christmas card.

The word “merry” probably comes from the old fashioned “merrymaking of the holiday” promoted by Dickens, a message of love, joy, and well wishes that we all make, irrespective of our individual belief systems or political leanings. It’s become a universal term communicating joy and good wishes, and can be used by people of all races and religious backgrounds during Christmas time.

So from us to you at this wonderful time of the year, “Merry Christmas!

Christmas in America

American history tells us that early settlers of Boston were Puritans who sailed to America in 1630 seeking religious freedom. The early Pilgrims, a separatist group, came ten years later, also seeking their own style of religious freedom.

In the colonies of New England, the Puritan population was staunchly against Christmas and its celebration. They saw it as a holiday associated with Catholic and pagan traditions, which they opposed. Consequently, in 1659 Christmas was officially outlawed in Boston. Anyone found celebrating it was fined fifty shillings and shunned by their neighbors.

This law was revoked in 1681 by a non-Puritan governor, but by that time, Christmas had simply been forgotten, and wouldn’t catch on again until the mid-19th century after Washington Irving wrote stories about how Christmas was celebrated in England before the Puritans took over. German immigrants practiced the tradition of placing evergreen branches and trees in their homes during cold winters, and Catholic immigrants brought the tradition of nativity scenes. The legend of Saint Nicholas and its traditions were brought by European emigrants. By the late 1800s most Americans celebrated Christmas, and President Grant declared Christmas a national holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Today, most Americans blend religious and secular customs with their own family traditions with food, decorations, and gift giving (thanks, Charles Dickens). For most Americans, Christmas remains a religious occasion, and it blends well with the Jewish Hanukkah.

Today, the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and ends on New Years Day, giving all of us plenty of time to celebrate, shop, party, eat, pray, and decorate to our hearts content. While it serves us well to be reminded of the original meaning of Christmas, Christmas in the United States reflects the values of a free and diverse people.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at DLMoneyMatters!