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Christmas was not illegal in the U.S. before 1836

December 21, 2018 GMT

CLAIM: A social media post circulating online claims that “Christmas was illegal in the U.S. until 1836 as it was considered an ancient pagan holiday.” 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The details of this post are incorrect. Though Christmas was not as widely celebrated in the early 1800s, it was not illegal throughout the country. However, one colony did make it illegal to celebrate Christmas in 1659.

THE FACTS: The post circulating on Facebook carries a photo of what purports to be a “PUBLICK NOTICE” stating that the observation of Christmas has been deemed a sacrilege and detailing practices, including exchanging gifts, dressing in fine clothing and feasting, that have been forbidden. “The claim is bogus,” Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas,” told The Associated Press. However, he noted, there was one caveat: The Massachusetts-Bay Colony ordinance of 1659, which made it illegal to celebrate Christmas in that specific colony. 

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In fact, Nissenbaum said that by 1836 Christmas had taken on “its familiar modern form” with Santa Claus and holiday shopping in the United States. Christopher Klein, author of the History channel’s article “When Massachusetts Banned Christmas,” noted that Christmas was not recognized as a federal holiday until 1870, but it was by no means illegal in the U.S. 

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.