Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
This time of year as the war on Christmas heats up I am reminded of the immortal words of Doctor Seuss:
“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…”
Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types, I have to say that some Christians have waged a real war on Christmas for centuries.
Now I have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property. However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what the Christian Grinches have done over centuries. So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.
Puritan Anti-Christmas Laws
Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. Today’s Christians seem perfectly at home with the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of Christian churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration, those things are a declaration of war against the very holiday that we as Christians wantonly desecrate.
The Puritans hated Christmas…
Let us go back and look at some history. Not the kind of “history” promoted by David Barton and Glenn Beck, but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.
Back in the 1600s a Christian group that was tremendously influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans.
The Puritans believed that they were the “elect” based on their theology. The Calvinist doctrine of double predestination ensured that they as the elect knew they knew they were right. For those that do not understand this doctrine, let me explain. The Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. They believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven, and the rest of us were created to live and die, and then go to Hell because God decided so before the creation of the world.
But that is not all. The Puritans also believed that as the elect that they had a “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth and as such they established a theocracy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If the Puritans had simply died out and gone away this might not be an issue. However, their theology has continued and their modern successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movements believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.
The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike the Englishmen of today, the English of that period took their religion pretty seriously. Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English religionists of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were rather un-Christian.
English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially anything to do with Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included killing real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics as well as Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.
But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads, burn at the stake, or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs. They killed first first and asked questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only without professional officials to regulate the game.
Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. They were militant, intolerant and exclusive, so who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power after Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge with great gusto. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.
Of course they did so for the noble reason of purifying England of heresy. In fact if you want to compare them to a modern religious group, they would be pretty similar to the Taliban. When the Puritans took over the government they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas.
The Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family. The drink they called wassail was a hot-spiced wine. Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a rather pungent and rancid English wine, thus the need for spices and heat.
Wassailing sometimes ended up with episodes of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, then it was called “Mob Football” and it didn’t have very many rules. Since it was particularly popular at Christmas, the Puritans suspected that it must have been from the Devil.
The Puritans had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something that might be fun harmful, as such anything fun needed to be completely removed from public life.
This miserable situation lasted until 1660; a year after the Lord Protector and head of the army and police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and everyone was happy. Well sort of, the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing heretics, especially Roman Catholics. That being said, people were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since decorating was allowed these rulers lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years. A popular verse of the time said:
Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.
Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided that what was going on in their homeland was not to their taste. So in 1659 under Governor Sir Edmund Andros they enacted laws like those of Cromwell. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. To keep the festivities going the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.
Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football, or anything else that might be construed as fun were criminalized. The law stated:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”
That sounds lovely doesn’t it? To their credit the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing heretics with heavy stones unless they were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch.
Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now. Coincidently the last State Church in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.
So the next time you hear about the war on Christmas, remember that a lot of the people ranting about the supposed “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish a very harsh and sterile Puritan view of faith that led to the celebration of Christmas being criminalized in England and in Massachusetts. Of course they would have a hard time doing that now since they so connected to the corporations and retailers who make big time bucks off of Christmas.
Thankfully for now we only have to suffer from the yearly rants of the fun deprived army of Christian Grinches, who without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, today, more people like all the tinsel, bells, lights, decorations, the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof to want to abolish Christmas. So the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive, at least until next year. One can always hope.