U.S. Flags Fly on Christmas Day – History and Controversy

Dec 25th, 2016

Christmas was proclaimed a federal holiday by the U.S. government in 1870. It was one of the four holidays included in the legislation, specifically 5 U.S.C. § 6103. The other holidays include New Years Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. You can view the federal holidays that have been added since that time on our blog.


Christmas Parade


Photo courtesy of North Charleston


When the law was enacted in 1870, it applied only to federal employees working in the District of Columbia. The law was expanded in 1885 to include federal employees and institutions in all U.S. states and territories. Although the legislation does not apply to state governments or the public, most schools, post offices, banks and other institutions close on federal holidays. Some states have enacted their own legislation to designate specific holidays that may include dates that are not federal holidays.


Christmas is one of the most celebrated days of the year. It is a commemoration of Jesus’ birth that is traditionally celebrated by Christians and non-Christians.


Because Christmas is a religious holiday, it has been objected to by various individuals since it began. In one lawsuit, Ganulin v. United States, the District Court ruled that the federal holiday status did not violate the Constitution’s First Amendment prohibiting Congress from establishing a national religion. The court stated that the holiday had become secularized and that the government was simply recognizing its cultural significance.


The so called “War on Christmas” gained media attention in the early 2000s. Those against Christmas as a religious holiday have tried to take steps to take the word Christmas out and replace it with the word holiday. For example, holiday trees, holiday lights and holiday decorations. In an effort to avoid the controversy and become “politically correct”, some popular department stores, including Walmart and Sears, have tried having their employees greet customers with generic terms such as Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings


Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, whichever you prefer, to all! We hope that you enjoy your holiday.


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