Thursday, December 23, 2010

When the Puritans outlawed Christmas

During this festive time of year, it has become normal (sadly) to hear about various attempts to purge or at least tamp-down the actual word "Christmas" in the public square.  From the pc-friendly greeting "happy holidays" to the effort by some to emphasize the old pagan winter celebrations to the now hip references to the Seinfeld-era faux-holiday Festivus, there seems to always be a level of consternation about using the word Christmas this time of year.  You know, because it has that word in it.  The new forbidden "C" word.  Christ.

Well, there was a time when the ire against Christmas and its celebration here in America had to do with the last syllable of the word, the "mas" -- which is an abbreviated version of the word "Mass," a reference to the Catholic eucharistic liturgy.  The Puritans who settled in New England and the Scottish Presbyterians who followed them in settling the American colonial frontier had a particular aversion to the celebration of Christmas, viewing it as a papist festival that had no place in a properly Reformed understanding of the Christian life.  In addition to its Catholic roots, Christmas was also impermissibly tinged, in the Puritan view, with the earlier pagan holidays that occurred in December, as the Puritan leader Increase Mather noted:
The early Christians who  first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens' Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.
And popery and paganism weren't the only Puritan objections to the Christmas celebration.  Christmas also interfered with the joy of Puritan life:  toil.  One Puritan objection to the celebration of Christmas was that it promoted the playing of games and public idleness.  The blog A Puritan's Mind has a short discussion of Puritan efforts to ban the public celebration of Christmas here:  When Christmas Was Banned. Horror of horrors, many Christmas observers would actually commemorate the day by ... wassailing!

Just how strong was the Puritan aversion to Christmas? So strong that the ACLU has an article posted on its website detailing how these devout Calvinists reviled the Christmas holiday:  Puritans & Christmas.  An interesting read!

Being neither a Puritan nor a member of the ACLU, though, and as a proud member of the Church of Rome, I feel completely at ease wishing all our readers a blessed and merry Christmas.  I plan on celebrating the day by engaging in an overt act of papist devotion, followed by a vigorous bout of wassailing!


Tom Van Dyke said...

How odd that the ACLU should feel compelled to post such a thing on its website. To what end?


Mark D. said...

To show that the ACLU's hostility to Christmas in the public square is shared by at least a part of the formative Christian presence in our nation's history? That would be my guess...

Jason Pappas said...

Merry Christmas to you too Mark ... and everyone else!

King of Ireland said...

Well Done Mark. I do not visit here as much as I need to and one of my New Years resolutions is to start contributing more again as I have gotten my Real Estate blog close to where I want it and will not have to devout all my time to it. I miss the discussions here.