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'Secular' Christmas Cards a Long-Held, White House Tradition?

'Secular' Christmas Cards a Long-Held, White House Tradition?

The Obama family is sending out Christmas cards with no mention of Christ or Christmas, but apparently, that is what presidents have been doing for nearly 100 years.

According to a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by David Greenberg, a professor of history, journalism, and media studies at Rutgers University, White House Christmas cards have traditionally been secular and inclusive in nature, going back all the way to the 1920s when President Calvin Coolidge, a devoted Christian in his personal life, sent out cards void of specific religious references.

Rather than religious references, Coolidge's card referenced a “state of mind” that cherished “peace and goodwill,” Greenberg wrote, adding that the cards had an inclusive tone at a time of great divisiveness, with immigration, Prohibition, and the Ku Klux Klan, among the controversial issues of the time.

Coolidge started a “secular” tradition that continued throughout the rest of the 20th century. Eisenhower, who sent out cards wishing recipients a “fine holiday season,” personally viewed particular religions as insignificant compared to the final result of their teachings, having once said in his 1954 Flag Day speech, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith – and I don't care what it is.”

Presidents known for their strongly-held Christian beliefs did not break the secular tradition. Ronald Reagan, an outspoken Christian who was president at a time when evangelical groups like the Moral Majority gained increased influence in politics, also sent out Christmas cards that made no reference to Christ.

George W. Bush, also a Christian, sent out “Happy Holiday” cards instead of Christmas cards, although his included Bible verses. Nonetheless, many cultural commentators believe phrases that do not specifically reference “Christmas” are a result of a “war on Christmas,” and Bush was criticized for his generic holiday cards.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said about Bush's cards: “This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture.”

This year, President Barack Obama's cards are adhering to a presidential tradition of holiday cards that are designed to be generic and inclusive, saying: “From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season.”


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