Have you ever wondered why Christmas is such a big deal in America?
After the American Revolution 1776, British customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s piqued American interest in the holiday?
The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. The American Civil War, 1861-1865, challenged the nation to define its moral values. The Civil War began as Confederate warships bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861 and lasted until Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, April 9, 1865 to Ulysses S. Grant. Five days later, President Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.
The vice-president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the office of president after Lincoln's assassination, and was immediately confronted with the problems of peace. The last shot may have been fired at the end of the Civil War but deep prejudices remained. The nation was divided. Civil unrest spread throughout America. Gang wars nearly destroyed New York City. There was overwhelming mistrust of the government. President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a legal holiday June 26, 1870. Many believe this declaration was an attempt to bring opposing forces together and focus on rebuilding the nation by placing the vision of peace within the hearts of American families.
Civil unrest continues to be an issue in current American culture. America is divided on political and social issues. Nostalgic remembrances can be a catalyst for self-reflection and for attempts at simplifying contemporary daily life--even if for a brief season or even one day. Advent has been called a season of preparation. Maybe we can examine what prejudices take up residency within our own hearts and what may need to be moved out so that hope can move in.
"He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:17 CEB