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The History of Christmas: Epilogue – Time Was Is NOW December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Epilogue: Time Was, Is Now

 

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My twelve day look at the History of Christmas is over. Obviously, there are many other significant entries I could have made and you might be wondering why I chose what I did and left out other seemingly more important features of this wondrous holiday.

I included what is here because these articles contain a connecting thread that I feel is significant in the celebration of the Christmas season. That thread is the awe and wonder and even the spiritual fulfillment that the human race has experienced over the years from the dawn of mankind up to and including our own time.

I chose to express my history in the form of conversations and letters. I’ve always felt a more personal approach to history allows it to be embraced, appreciated, and more easily understood by the majority of people. Call it my ‘style,’ if you will. Hopefully, it didn’t detract from your enjoyment.

Some may wonder why I did not include the nativity, or as it is called ~ the Christmas Story. Although it has produced an awe and wonder of its own, it has done so at the expense of the true history of the holidays. While I have nothing against the Christian expression of Christmas as the birth of the Christ child, you have to agree that much of the story has simply been tacked on to a season of joy that predated Christ’s birth by thousands of years.

Had the Christian church been willing to join in the age-old celebration and embrace the traditions of the past, I would have included it. But the honest truth is the church has tried to capture the wonder of the season and pass it off as its own. It has “Christianized” many of the traditions and stories that started elsewhere and claimed their expression of them as holy and righteous. Then it has turned around and vehemently attacked the original traditions claiming them heretical and labeling them as pagan evils in the eyes of God.

No one knows the date of Christ’s birth.  The Bible is mute on the issue, just as it doesn’t suggest anywhere that the birth of Jesus should be celebrated.  But since the story tells us that shepherds were tending their flocks outside at night it stands to reason that the birth month would have been in October or March.   During the bitter cold of December in Palestine, it is highly doubtful that Jewish shepherds would have been outside with their charges.

What I’ve tried to show above all else is that Christmas has been and always will be many things to many people. It is as complicated as the love it engenders. It’s a time for joy, peace and happiness. Yet, at the same time, it is a period of high stress and depression for many.   The truth is – the wonders of the season are most evident in homes where the holiday is celebrated as both a secular and spiritual festival.

The celebration of the season has always been somewhat commercial, more secular than sacred. Merchants from the beginning of time have profited from its merriment. Yet, without doubt, there has always been a touch of the sacred, whether by myth or miracle, that has always been included in the festivity.

Thank for stopping by and reading. I wish you all the best in the New Year.

Your host,

Erick Emert

 

Short Bibliography:

The Origins of Christmas by Joseph F. Kelly

4,000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages by Earl W. Count, Alice Lawson Count, and Dan Wakefield

Where Did Christmas Come From? by Al Remson

Christmas in America by Penne L. Restad

There Really Is a Santa Claus: The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions by William J. Federer

Christmas: A Social History by Mark Connelly

The Trouble With Christmas by Tom Flynn

Christmas in America by Antonia Felix

History, Legends & Folklore of Christmas by Judy M. Rouse

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

Also, many websites too numerous to mention were researched concerning the history of Christmas.

The History of Christmas: Day 10 – Christmas Outlawed (1679 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 10: Christmas Outlawed In New England – 1679 CE

 

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Boston MA 1659: The church leaders of Massachusetts have received the support of the government to ban the festival of Christmas. The new law enacted this week by the General Court makes it illegal to celebrate Christmas in our state.

In a statement released by the Court, it upheld that “Christmas is nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.”

The noted Reverend Increase Mather was pleased with the result, saying, “Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25th did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”

The church has long noted that the celebration of Christmas involves behavior that is both obnoxious and shocking. Rowdy public displays, excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging, including the threat of doing harm, and the invasion of wealthy homes have long been a part of the celebration of the Christmas holiday.

The truth of the matter has been clear to see. Reveling easily becomes rowdiness, heightened by the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Misrule has given over to our laws being violated with impunity during this time of carnival that highly dishonors the name of Christ.

The Court stated, “It would be different if these holidays were celebrated in a Holy manner. But they are consumed in compotations, in interludes, in playing cards, in revellings, in excess of wine, and in mad mirth.”

Signaled out as two particularly dangerous seasonal practices were mumming, which usually involves the disgrace of the exchange of clothing between men and woman; who when dressed in each other’s habits, go from one neighbor’s house to another to merry make with them in disguise, and the singing of Christmas carols, which usually takes place in the midst of rioting, chambering, and wantonness.

The Court, supported by the church, hopes that “subsequent generations will forget that the church, more than a millennium earlier, had placed Christmas Day in late December, a decision that was part of what amounted to a compromise, and a compromise for which the Church has paid a high price.”

*

“Merry Christmas, John! We’ve come to celebrate the season with ye!”

Maxwell Harper and his friends, Benton Pennyworth, Charles Wright, and James Townsend entered the home of farmer John Rowden on Christmas night, 1679, helping themselves to seats by his roaring fire. After singing a mirthful song, Mr. Harper demanded cups of the farmer’s pear wine for his group.

“Come now, John. T’is Christmas, is it not? A bit of your pear wine would supplement our singing.”

“Ay, Maxwell, and such celebrating has been outlawed by the government. Could ye not know this?”

“Of course we know it, John.  But a bit of revelry hurts none. Now where’s them cups?”

“There’ll be no cups for yer lot this night, Maxwell. Now kindly leave my residence, please.”

The four men stumbled out the farmer’s door, only to turn about as it shut. The men proceeded to throw stones and bones at the door until farmer John returned once again.

“Well, John, the least you could do is part with a few shillings on this glorious night.”

“Maxwell, I’ve nothing for the lot of yer. Now get ye behind me!”

With the door again slammed in their faces, Maxwell and his friends went off into the darkness to the next house on the road.

*

Neither Christmas nor its celebration disappeared totally during the ban. It was too popular amongst the common people for that to happen.  The British government repealed the law in 1681. The holiday was celebrated widely and wildly from 1687 to 1689. Thereafter, Massachusetts Bay Colony regained their charter and the public celebration of Christmas all but died out. In 1750, the Bay Psalm Book finally included some Christmas hymns and the 1786 Worcester Collection of Sacred Harmony, published by Isaiah Thomas, included Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.