For most Americans, the most important holiday of the year is Christmas. Although Christmas is a holiday celebrated in many nations, there's no denying that America makes a bigger celebration and holiday out of Christmas than any other nation in the world. Perhaps this is because no nation has altered or adapted a holiday as much in the twentieth century as Americans have Christmas.
Originally, Christmas was strictly a day for religious observation, and it has been observed that:
the world 'Christmas' means the mass of Christ from the Old England Christes Maesse, which is celebrated by the Western church on December 25 . . . and that the day of nativity was not generally observed until the fifth century A.D. (Durant 63).
In its original form, Christmas was a day of holy observation, not a day of celebration.
So we see that the first major change of Christmas has been that of gradually changing it from a religious holiday to a secular holiday. This is a process that has been going on in many other nations, particularly those of Western Europe, and yet there's no denying that Americans have accelerated the secularization of Christmas more than any other nation.
Part of this is due to a decline in religious observance in the twentieth century in America, and as etiquette expert Miss Manners observed, people's attitudes are changing about Christmas in America, so that they see Christmas changing "from a religious holiday that they do not celebrate to a winter festival that they might" (Martin 681). Miss Manners is referring not simply to the fact that fewer people attend religious services on Christmas than in the past, but that the emphasis in America is shifting on this holiday from objects and events that focus on the birth of Jesus Christ to concentrating on the secular figure of Santa Claus and the mythology that surrounds him.
In past centuries, the holiday was celebrated by attending midnight mass or an early...