Monday, December 17, 2012

The First War on Christmas

Sometimes we forget that the first "war on Christmas" in America was waged by the seventeenth-century Puritans who came to America to establish a Bible-centered commonwealth and a Christian society.  Rachel Schnepper, a faculty fellow in history at Washington & Lee University, explains:

In the early 17th century in England, the Christmas season was not so different from what it is today: churches and other buildings were decorated with holly and ivy, gifts were exchanged and charity was distributed among the poor.

Also much as it is today, it was a period of carousing and merriment. The weeks around Christmas were celebrated with feasting, drinking, singing and games. Mummers would blacken their faces and dress up in costumes, often in the clothes of the opposite sex, to perform plays in the streets or in homes. Carolers, too, would sing door to door as well as in the home. Wealthy lords threw open their manors, inviting local peasants and villagers inside to gorge on food and drink. Groups of young men called wassailers would march in and demand to be feasted or given gifts of money in exchange for their good wishes and songs.

Puritans detested these sorts of activities, grumbling that Christmas was observed with more revelry than piety. Worse, they contended that there was no Scriptural warrant for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration. Believing in the holiday was superstitious at best, heretical at worst. 

Read Schnepper's entire piece here.

Do you want to read more about Christmas in early America?  I recommend Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas.

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