Quaker Christmas?

Puritans were called that out of their efforts to purify the church of practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholics (“Papists” in the quote below from Barclay) which were not based in scripture. One of these practices was holy days and they did not observe Christmas, and at times and in places they controlled made it illegal to do so. Even when legal, Christmas wasn’t observed in much of New England until the mid 19th century.

George Fox as well as other early Friends shared this view. Fox would speak of “the day known as Christmas” rather than speaking of Christmas. Robert Barclay, in proposition XI of the Apology (Concerning Worship)  section 3 (paragraph 793) speaking of holy days, including the sabbath said “we may not therefore think with the Papists, that these days are holy, and lead people into a superstitious observation of them; being persuaded that all days are alike holy in the sight of God.”

Today is is generally accepted that Jesus would not have been born on December 25th; that that date was chosen because of a Roman pagan holiday on that day. The yule log is Germanic as are so many Christmas customs. Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) borrows attributes from the Norse God Odin and came to us via a Dutch myth. An occasional creche scene not with standing, Jesus, the prince of peace, is missing from Christmas.

Many Quakers, into the 20th century, honored that understanding, but it seems today many of us are no different from everyone else. For most Americans Christmas is a celebration of materialism. Even the high church tradition in which the liturgical calendar has Christmas start on December 24th you find Christmas decorations put up before the end of November. I remember when I was in the Episcopalian Education for Ministry Program the facilitator told us she (a member of her church’s alter guild) would go around taking down decorations during Advent, put up by over anxious parishioners.

The new Pope, Papa Frank as I heard one Jesuit call him, not only decries materialism, but lives a life of simplicity. Shouldn’t Quakers, for whom simplicity is a testimony, let our lives speak as much as he does?

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