A local TV news station posted a trivia thing stating we have been celebrating Christmas in this country for nearly 200 years. Uhhh what? I kinda thought that Christmas was celebrated longer than that. Can some tell me when Christmas became a holy day? Thanks!


Others will chime in with more detail, but Christmas as we know it in its form as a public celebration is relatively recent in this country. In my state, Masachusetts, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas well into the 1800’s – too “papist.” Christmas was associated with the despised Romanists and pagan practices. It took people like the political cartoonist Thomas Nast to put a public face on Santa Claus and gradually a public observance became acceptable. Then the merchants realized that there was real money to be made in urging gift-giving and celebrations.


So Catholics had to secretly celebrate Christmas? So much for freedom of religion. :frowning:


Yeah, Massachusetts is a swell place. The first public Mass wasn’t said in Boston until 1788, and Catholicism here wasn’t even made legal until 1780. Everyone buys into the “Pilgrims and freedom of religion” story, but they were about freedom of THEIR religious practices, no one else’s. Irish immigration in the mid-19th century is what finally turned the tide and made Catholicism at least public in a major way.

The irony, of course, is that Christmas is gradually becoming illegal here once again - or at least Politically Incorrect in the extreme. In public you can freely use words like Eid and Kwanzaa, but say “Christmas” to someone, and it’s like someone just smelled something bad. Never mind schools, they’re a lost cause; now many town halls no longer put up "Christmas trees;” “holiday trees,” maybe, “winter festivals” maybe.


In Philadelphia, we have the oldest parish in continuous existence in the United States (which was founded in the Colonies, not in the previously Spanish controlled areas).

The three Catholic Churches built in the 1700s in Philadelphia do not look like Churches. They were built to look like other things so Catholics could worship in secret. Until the Revolution, Philadelphia was the only place in the British Empire where Catholics could worship publicly, but they still needed to hide because it was still illegal. However, the Quakers simply ignored the law and didn’t legally prosecute Catholics.

In the 1800s, when the Cathedral Basilica was being built, the No Nothing Riots were taking place in New York, Philadelphia, etc. Some Catholic Churches were burned down in Philadelphia and some others were saved by tolerant Protestants. Because of the riots, the Cathedral Basilica was built with no windows except as skylights at at the very top. That way rocks and torches could not be thrown through the windows.

In all states, it used to be illegal for Catholics to hold public office unless they renounced the Pope. North Carolina was the last state to remove that law in the early 20th century.

America was a land of religious freedom for Protestants only. Even the original Catholic colony of Maryland was taken over, outlawing Catholicism in Maryland with Catholics being massacred.

Below are some websites:


In the early years of our nation, mostly colonial times. Christmas was not celebrated because it was seen as “too Catholic”. That is one reason by George Washington was able to cross the Delaware river and attack the German Hussites helping the British. He knew they would be sleeping due to their Christmas celebrations. Christmas celebrations have been around much longer than 200 years in Europe due to the Catholic Church. In our country, Christmas wasn’t really celebrated until larger numbers of German immigrants came in the early 1800’s about. I think that is what the TV station was aiming at but as usual botched and mixed up some facts and ideas.


Isn’t it amazing that people claiming they want religious freedom where sometimes were the most intolerant of all. There was only one Catholic signer to the declaration, Lewis Carroll. While often times people want to pin intolerance on the Catholic Church with inquisitions, the Protestant countries of Europe were worst.


This has been really eye opening for me. I just assumed that even protestants, especially Lutheran, Episcopalian, and such would have also celebrated Christmas.


There is a difference between the first pilgrims who were separatists from the Church of England and the Puritans which followed and they were the most intolerant ones. The pilgrims were separatists and wanted nothing to do the Church of England which they considered too corrupt to reform. The Puritans were still involved and believed the Church of England can be purified from within, hence the name Puritan. They became the dominate force in early colonial Mass and New England. The colony of Rhode Island and Conn. were spin off from Mass for “unorthodox” groups from the puritans.


Yes, Lutheran and Anglican still followed some kind of liturgical year and holidays. But for a number of early Protestant groups, that wasn’t enough and Anabaptists etc threw out things like Christmas. Now a days most all Protestants including Baptists type groups celebrate Christmas and Easter and only a hand full still would think these Christian holy days are too Catholic.


Corrections to the above posts (and I think autocorrect is to blame):

No Nothing == the Know Nothing Party.

Lewis Carroll == Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

I just wanted people to be able to look this stuff up!

Also, people should remember that many places in Europe had New Year’s, St. Stephen’s Day, or Epiphany as the gift-giving holiday. A lot of Catholics celebrated Christmas by going to Mass and having a nice meal, not with presents.

But yeah, England had Christmas go away under Cromwell, and come back under Charles II. The Puritans and similar groups (the Pilgrims were not Puritans, albeit they were a related religious movement) fled Charles II to the US and kept their anti-Christmas laws. The Puritans were pretty hard on both Catholics and Protestants who weren’t Puritans, too.


Lewis Carroll was an English writer, Charles Carroll ‘of Carrollton’ was the Catholic signer of the Declaration. :cool:

Posted this before I sew your correction post. :shrug:


Sorry! I knew there was one Catholic signer and the last name was Carroll. I should have double checked the first name. My bad :smiley:


See my editted post, My really bad. :smiley:




Others have related how Christmas was or was not celebrated in the English colonies in America and in the early days of the United States.

Christmas has been celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States since 1870, however that only applied to Federal employees who worked in the District of Columbia. The holiday was extended to Federal employees who worked elsewhere in 1885.

Each state has its own set of holidays. They tend to correspond to Federal holidays but there is nothings that requires them to do so.

As far as Christmas being a Holy Day of Obligation, individual dioceses tended to set their own days that were based on the days recognized by the Catholic Church in England. Christmas would have been one of them. Our current American list of 6 Holy Days of Obligation, including Christmas, was established by American bishops in 1884 and approved by the Holy See in 1885.


The first colony, Virginia, has always celebrated Christmas, but that’s because most of the settlers were Church of England (Anglican). Colonial Williamsburg is gorgeous at Christmas time.


An old saw: “There is no one so reactionary as a revolutionary who has achieved their objective.”


sometimes I think is it hard to understand people’s views and reactions from the past. Having real religious freedom as we understand it today wasn’t a political reality when the first colonies were forming. I try to keep that in mind when reviewing history. Up until the establishment of our constitution, the government or state were a controlling factor with religion and having multiple religious views and groups would be viewed as an unstable society. The new world became a convent dumping ground for unwanted groups yet those unwanted groups wanted control like what they left. We can look back on them and wonder how could they be so hypocritical but in the reality of their times, they were following the pattern of the day. I hope this make sense.


You do realize the concept of Freedom of Religion didn’t even exist in the Americas until 1791, right? That’s when the Bill of Rights was ratified …

I’m sure it didn’t exactly catch on instantly, either.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit