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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

When Puritans banned Christmas

During this festive time of year, it has become normal (sadly) to hear about various attempts to purge things like the Nativity Scene or at least tamp-down the actual word "Christmas" in the public square. From the pc greeting "happy holidays" to the effort by some to emphasize the old pagan winter celebrations to 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. And if its Catholic roots weren't bad enough, 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.
Popery and paganism weren't the only Puritan objections to the Christmas celebration. Christmas also interfered with one of the joys 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!


Anonymous said...

It should probably be noted that, at least in the late 18th and early 19th century, the issue many had with Wassailing had less to do with what we think of today as mere festive caroling, and more to do with the drunken (and sometimes violent) rowdiness and demands for food and money that accompanied it.

Unknown said...

That is not good as festivals like this should not be related to such thoughts and ideas. I celebrate all festivals with full spirits, just few days ago I celebrated Christmas with my family at event space Chicago and we all had so much fun.

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