War on Christmas

The war on Christmas in Philly: From Quaker disdain to the dystopian Santaland in King of Prussia

Don’t believe in the War on Christmas? Well, good for you. You’re sane.

But you must remember something about our fair state of Pennsylvania: It is often insane. And as such, it has been a place where Christmas has been attacked and then met with opposition from people who love it with great fervor. There have been plenty of attempts to reduce its significance, going all the way back to the first Quaker settlers.

Here are six examples of how Christmas has been both Pennsylvania’s passion and — at times when people wanted to change some traditions — a controversy for the last 300 years.

Pennsylvania’s first Christmas warriors

Pennsylvania was founded by Grinches.

The Quakers, including our city founder Billy Penn, settled Pennsylvania and Philadelphia in the late 17th century and while they were pretty laid back when it came to things like war and the Native Americans, Christmas really drew their ire. They didn’t see the reason why one particular day was cause for such celebration.

George Fox, the man who founded the religion, wouldn’t even refer to Christmas as Christmas. He’d call it “the day known as Christmas.” It was kind of an early twist on the way college football coaches in rivalries refer to their rival as “the team from (insert state name here).”    

George fox
Wikimedia Commons

Another Quaker, George Barclay, once said “all days are alike holy in the sight of God.”

Fortunately for Christmas lovers, the Quakers never turned their distaste for the holiday into any formal movement that banned the holiday — that did happen in Massachusetts for a time.

The beginning of the Christmas tree tradition

Unlike the Quakers, the Pennsylvania Dutch couldn’t get enough of the holiday, and we have them to thank for a couple of the traditions we hold to this day, including the Christmas tree.

The first documented Christmas tree appearance in the U.S. came in the early 1800s in Lancaster. According to Les Standiford’s book “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” this practice was picked up throughout the rest of the country after a few brochures went 1800s-viral, and everyone wanted to be like the Pennsylvanians. Then in 1848 Christmas trees went on sale for the first time — in Philadelphia.

Philly as a hub for World War I Christmas

The Christmas Truce during the first year of World War I is famous. But Christmas was celebrated throughout the war, and Philadelphia had something to do with it. American soldiers received Christmas parcels from the Red Cross, and they were packaged in Philadelphia, near 16th and Arch streets.

Philly’s ‘no Christmas trees’ rule

The city located 75 or so miles from where Christmas trees became a thing has turned its shoulder them for the last 30 years. City codes actually prohibit live Christmas trees from being in high-rises, apartment buildings and businesses. The only people who can legally have a live Christmas tree in Philly are those who live in houses.

But this law isn’t enforced strictly. According to the Inquirer, only two citations were given in 2012 and none in 2013.  

The Christmas Village controversy

In 2010, a young Jewish boy supposedly walked with his father by Christmas Village and asked, “Dad, don’t we get a village?” Thus began Philadelphia’s most infamous Christmas controversy.

After what the city called numerous complaints from citizens, it ordered the lights be dimmed on the “Christmas” sign at Christmas Village and the official name to be changed to Holiday Village. Fox News was ALL OVER IT.

The ban didn’t last long, given the national outcry.

KOP’s future Christmas

A Philadelphia when the King of Prussia Mall went with a Christmas display that was a little futuristic, minimalist and post-apocalyptic but above all weird. The backlash arrived quickly. A Change.org petition popped up, and customers complained. And as soon as they did, King of Prussia Mall announced it was going back to the traditional setup.

The Cherry Hill Santa fee

Another suburban mall managed to botch Christmas this year, too. Cherry Hill Mall started this holiday season by requiring customers to pay at least $35 to get into the area of the store that featured Santa Claus. So, sitting on Santa’s lap required some real dough.

Like the post-apocalyptic North Pole scene, this fee didn’t last long. Cherry Hill Mall heard many complaints from customers and quickly revised its plans. Santa is now free.

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