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For much of U.S. history, Christmas was a contested holiday. Protestants scorned it, viewing it as a relic of paganism. Catholics boisterously celebrated it, but to them it was more akin to St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras.

Only after the Civil War, with the establishment of new traditions − Santa Claus, reindeer, gift giving, trees − did Christmas become popular enough to be declared a federal holiday.

As the country continued to evolve and grow, absorbing millions of immigrants − many of them non-Christians − entertainment became a way to loop everyone into America’s Christmas celebrations.

Ray Rast, a historian at Gonzaga University, explains how Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” − a song with no mention of Jesus, wise men or mangers − became a hit precisely because it tapped into the secular themes of family, nostalgia, home and hope.

For these reasons, it’s the quintessential American Christmas song − one written by a Jew, popularized during World War II and enjoyed by people of all faiths.

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Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

After Irving Berlin, left, penned ‘White Christmas,’ he pegged Bing Crosby as the ideal singer for what would become a holiday classic. Irving Haberman/IH Images via Getty Images

With ‘White Christmas,’ Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby helped make Christmas a holiday that all Americans could celebrate

Ray Rast, Gonzaga University

The secular carol doesn’t mention Jesus, angels or wise men, while reminding listeners of what makes them not just American, but human.

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