We watched an awesome movie called The Man Who Invented Christmas, about Charles Dickens’ creation of the Christmas Carol. We all know about Dickens and Christmas Carol, but that title really struck me. The man who “invented” Christmas? Um what? Dickens invented Christmas? Even more interesting to me is the movie’s reminder that early Puritan Christians opposed Christmas due to its pagan origins celebrating the Winter Solstice as well as its Catholic influences. Um double what? Christians opposed Christmas?
Yep. Christmas, as we all know and celebrate today, is only about 170 years old and was more influenced by Charles Dickens than Jesus Christ. Even more interesting to me are the early American opponents of Christmas. Not the usual suspects that Foxnews usually showcases: bleeding heart liberals, atheists, America haters, and various other groups plotting to destroy ‘merica. Nope. In early America, the people that opposed Christmas were … Christians. Yep, Christians opposed Christmas.
To be fair, a particular sect of Christianity, the Puritans, opposed the celebration of Christmas. Puritan Christians cancelled Christmas and it was not widely celebrated in the United States for the first 200 years due to its pagan and Catholic origins. According to history.com, “From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston, and “anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings.” That Christian aversion to Christmas continued well into the early 19th century. According to the History.com, that began to change when “Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house,” and after Dickens wrote Carol. Christmas did not even become a federal holiday until 1870. So the traditions that we celebrate today in its current form, are actually very new, owing more to Washington Irving and Charles Dickens than Jesus Christ.
If you think about it, early American Christian opposition to Christmas makes sense due to the Puritans’ aversion to Catholicism and anything suggesting earth or pagan worship. It was a catholic pope, Pope Julius 1, that decided Jesus was born on December 25, probably to ingratiate this early religion with people practicing older pagan end of year solstice festivals.
On some level, I had always known that Christmas had pagan origins, arising from end of year festivals like Yule farther north or Saturnalia in Rome, but it had never occurred to me that one of the influential Christian sects in early America, the Puritans, would actually oppose Christmas with such vim and vigor that they banned it for nearly two decades in the 17th century or that it was not widely practiced until the early 19th century.
When Foxnews laments the War on Christmas, they are actually defending a very un-American tradition, which was once opposed vigorously by the most influential American Christian sect, and influenced more by Saturnalia, Yule and Charles Dickens than the birth of historical Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of amusing.
Not trying to be a downer for any Christians. I love my Lutheran heritage, faith and traditions. Huge fan of Jesus!! Love Christmas!! It is just a good reminder that our current “reality” is constructed, historically contingent, and perpetually evolving.
I hope you don’t use this insight to rustle any feathers to any conservative friends or relatives. Honor and respect their own perception. We are no different that they are. Like them, you and I also need soothing bromides and metaphors to get by in the world. We all exist in this wonderful eternal magic of the great Magnum Mysterium of reality. Life is too short to waste precious time impugning traditions, but I hope this will all give us a little humility as we contemplate this time honored tradition, weaving historical Jesus, paganism, Early Catholicism, harvest festivals, earth worship, and yes, modern Christianity with all the kaleidoscopic complexity that word implies. It’s a big tent indeed open to all sorts of traditions and views.
Three cheers for Charles Dickens and the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas for opening my eyes to this truth hiding in plain sight! Merry Christmas and blessings to you all!!