If the news is to be believed, the United States is currently mired in two wars -- the War on Women and the War on Christmas. Well, three and a half or four if you count the Middle East, but let's focus on the big one, the War on Christmas. That phrase feels like it's only been around for a few years, but if you dig through history a bit, you'll find that people taking shots at Santa and his ilk is nothing new.
Here are three moments from the War on Christmas from before you knew it was a thing.
#3. Teddy Roosevelt Prohibits Christmas Trees at the White House
Whether you're a fan of it or not, Christmas is a big deal. It's the kind of thing you generally know is coming, even if you're not particularly interested in its various trappings. Now, imagine if a sitting president just "forgot" Christmas. That exact thing happened in 1902 ... sort of.
According to this story, there was no Christmas tree in the Roosevelt White House that year, and to hear the news outlets tell it, the culprit was an absent-minded president who just plain forgot to order one. If that article had a comment section, it would be littered with people calling bullshit. No way does the president order his own tree.
He hunts it.
And those imaginary people would have likely been right. See, Theodore Roosevelt was also a staunch environmentalist. The tree stunt, in all reality, was more likely a clever ploy by Roosevelt to defend another one of those trees that he loved so much.
We can't speak to the public's temperature on it back then, but we imagine that sacrificing your kids' Christmas happiness to prove a policy point is the kind of thing the media would have had a field day with. Luckily for Roosevelt, technological limitations of the time meant that journalists were only capable of instilling false rage in no more than 10 to 15 people at a time, so the "scandal" never really caught on.
If this had happened in 2002 instead, we wouldn't have heard the end of it for weeks.
#2. Fruitcake Banned for Being Too ... Good?
Fruitcake dates all the way to the ancient Romans. In fact, it's why Julius Caesar was murdered. We'll wait while you Google that.
"Et tu, frute?"
Anyway, it wasn't always an easy ride for the leaden loaf that tastes of mummified plums and the shattered dreams of London street urchins. The popular Christmas cake found itself the victim of a prohibition when, in the 1700s, churches around Europe banned it for being sinfully rich. And that was before the recipe even called for honey (or bits of "fruit" that will outlive all of us). It wasn't until the Victorian era brought fruitcake into fashion as a star of high tea that the prohibition receded. Hey, thanks, Victorians! Right?
#1. Puritans Condemn Christmas in the Colonies for 22 Years
Well, here it is: the mother lode. A ban on Christmas that lasted over 22 years ... in America! The Puritans, for all their hemming and hawing over religious freedom, were a touchy group. Colony leader Governor William "Buzzkill Billy" Bradford, upon realizing that some pilgrims were taking the day off to celebrate Christmas, reprimanded them and instituted a fine of five shillings per mirth-making. (In his defense, he thought the song went "God Punish Ye Merry Gentlemen and Sentence Them to an Eternal Inferno.")
Christmas stirred up bad memories for the pilgrims. What Halloween is to little old ladies today, Christmas was to many people of England. Wassailers would go around asking for handouts from their neighbors and, if they weren't satisfied with the treat offerings, would sometimes terrorize them. The practice of visiting houses and singing carols for figgy pudding wasn't quite Malcolm McDowell and his droogs doing their "Singing in the Rain" bit, but it's safe to say that sometimes carolers put the "assail" in "wassail"; things got a little dicey.
"'Tis the season to bust faces, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!"
The ban on Christmas became official law in 1659 and was not revoked until 1681, although the purest of Puritans were still hoping that the holiday observance wouldn't catch on. It did. But so did that whole "religious freedom" thing, so it all seemed to work out OK.