Sunday, November 04, 2007

Banning Christmas

The incident related in the last post was not the first time I ever heard of people wanting to outlaw Christmas. It has a long pedigree, as I first learned from an excellent summer school history teacher, Dr. Fisher. He told his surprised American History class that he considered himself a Puritan, like the pilgrims who settled our country, and he enjoyed relating to us a story that took place at Plymouth Plantation in 1627. I'll quote it from Governor William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation (he sometimes refers to himself in third person):

And herewith I shall end this year. Only I shall remember one passage more, rather of mirth than of weight. On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called them out to work as was used. But most of this new company [adventurers who had arrived on a later ship] excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, he found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar [a sort of javelin throwing], and some at stool-ball [a game something like cricket] and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their implements and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it matter of devotion, let them keep their houses; but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least not openly.

Dr. Fisher informed us that stool-ball is very similar to baseball and so baseball in America goes way back. :) For our Puritan forefathers, getting rid of Christmas was part of "purifying" Christian doctrine and practice from Catholic influence. They didn't believe in ornaments and ritual in churches and got rid of statues, musical organs, genuflecting, vestments, crosses, and the like. I grew up in a Congregational church, a denomination that descended from the Puritans. The walls of our church buildings were all white and clean, except that the children's Sunday School rooms had plenty of bright decorations, and the high school youth group's room had one poster of the names of God that our wonderful youth pastor had put up. To my surprise, a group leader told me that this poster was somewhat illicit, as our walls were supposed to be bare. At the time I didn't understand the policy; now I wonder if it had anything to do with our denominational history.

Getting back to Christmas, in 1644 the Puritans in England's Parliament passed an act forbidding it. "The day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were compelled to be open; plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen." So this wasn't just a fringe idea in one small American settlement! The colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut also outlawed Christmas at one point.

I conclude that when the ACLU kicks up a fuss every year about Christmas celebrations, they're only fighting for the preservation of our Puritan heritage. :)

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