Here's the surprising history behind the real 'war on Christmas'
A person dressed as Santa Claus waves as part of the festivities, during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Andrew Kelly/Reuters

There was a war on Christmas in American history, but it was waged by deeply conservative Christians.

Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony railed against the celebration of Christ's birth as a time of “great wickedness,” with a sinful focus on gluttony, drunkenness and promiscuity, and even prohibited the observation of the holiday, while the Quakers in Pennsylvania did not observe Christmas, according to The Bulwark's Daniel N. Gullotta.

"While today’s hand-wringing about the supposed war on Christmas centers on imagined attacks on American Christianity," Gullotta wrote, "there is a rich irony in the fact that the longest and most sustained critique of Christmas — including its banning — came from those who were claiming to be the truest and purest defenders of the reason for the season."

Gift exchanges and seasonal cards didn't emerge as Christmas traditions in the U.S. until the middle of the 19th century, and Congress didn't declare Dec. 25 as a federal holiday until 1870, a few years after some states started recognizing the date as a legal holiday.

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"Despite the image of Christmas as a quintessentially American holiday, the widespread celebration of Christmas across the United States is a surprisingly recent development," Gullotta wrote. "What took so long? As strange as it might sound, the original 'war on Christmas' was among Christians."

Long before Fox News anchors warned that liberals wanted stamp out seasonal joy, Puritans and other Christians argued over the date of Christ's birth and the proper way to celebrate it, or even to observe it as a holiday at all.

"The question of Christmas’s origins also became disputed, with Protestant theologians arguing that the celebratory date and many of its customs were pagan in origin, which seemed to lend credence to the Protestant belief that Catholic practices had corrupted Christianity," Gullotta wrote.