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Why Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until 1870?

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The Christian celebration of Christmas is ancient, but many of our most treasured traditions surrounding the holidays are not. Gift-giving and Christmas trees weren’t the norm until the 1800s. And it wasn’t until 1870 that President Grant proclaimed Christmas a federal holiday.

Why, you may wonder, did it take so long? Christmas is one of the most important days of the year, and in a Christian nation, it seems astounding that it took almost a century for the White House to recognize this most holy day.

As it turns out, President Grant’s decision was a strategic one. Elected in 1868 and assuming office in 1869, his main task as president was to unite a country that had been rent in two by the Civil War – no easy task. Washington, D.C., and the White House sit in the middle between the North and the South, a reflection of Grant’s role as mediator between two regions that viewed one another with deep distrust, even hatred.

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Sound familiar? It should. Our country is more divided than it’s been in decades. We can’t unlock our phones or turn on our TVs without seeing some sort of headline designed to rile us up and fuel our rage.

Grant’s solution was to remind the Americans of what they have in common: a faith in Jesus Christ. No matter what side they fought on, no matter what their political convictions were, no matter what they thought of Reconstruction, the vast majority of Americans did – and still do – read the same Bible and worship the same God. A God who sent His only son to earth in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem as the Prince of Peace, who comes to bring the peace that passes all understanding to all who place their faith in him.

It’s a solution that we’d do well to learn from. Although there’s no denying that religion is on the decline in our country, the majority of Americans still consider themselves Christian. If that’s you – and I hope it is! – you have a vital role to play in bringing about the renewal of our democracy and the revival of faith.

Revelation tells us that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Isaiah informs us that the increase of his government and peace will have no end. That means that He is in charge, and he holds the future of each of our lives and of the entire country in His hands. Nothing we can do will change that.

This is good news for everyone, but particularly good news for those who are invested in our nation and care about its political health. We can and should fight for the causes we believe in, whether that’s freeing our nation from the scourge of abortion, human trafficking, and mass incarceration or campaigning in favor of religious liberty and justice reform. Obeying God’s law makes us stronger and allows us to thrive. But the miracle that occurred in Bethlehem two millennia ago means that while politics are good, they are not ultimate. The real victory has already been won in the person of Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, I urge you to pray for the future of our nation. Ask God to provide us with wise leaders who honor his commandments and live a life of servant-leadership. But above all, ask God to speak into your heart the words the angels spoke to the shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night: “Fear not.”

Through Jesus, we can march into the new year free from fear and firm in the conviction that God will make His kingdom come and His will be done.

Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition

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