Thursday, December 22, 2005

Do They Know It's a Pagan Holiday? (I Mean, Um, Christmas?)

All this blithering about "taking the Christmas out of Christmas" has's Andrew Santella setting the record straight. Apparently, it was Christians themselves who originally protested the commercialization of the holiday--or even it's celebration at all--long before Target employees started greeting customers with "Happy holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" and bringing down the wrath of the likes of Jerry Falwell. (Speaking as one of the few Jewish kids growing up in Pat Robertson's home town of Virginia Beach, I could have used a little more "happy holidays," even though I realize that most people are well-meaning no matter how they express their season's greetings.)

So, wouldn't you know it, it was Massachusetts that led the fight to take Christmas out of late December:
Liberal plots notwithstanding, the Americans who succeeded in banning the holiday were the Puritans of 17th-century Massachusetts. Between 1659 and 1681, Christmas celebrations were outlawed in the colony, and the law declared that anyone caught "observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting or any other way any such days as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings." Finding no biblical authority for celebrating Jesus' birth on Dec. 25, the theocrats who ran Massachusetts regarded the holiday as a mere human invention, a remnant of a heathen past. They also disapproved of the rowdy celebrations that went along with it. "How few there are comparatively that spend those holidays … after an holy manner," the Rev. Increase Mather lamented in 1687. "But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in Mad Mirth."

And our commonwealth didn't let up for a LONG time:
After the English Restoration government reclaimed control of Massachusetts from the Puritans in the 1680s, one of the first acts of the newly appointed royal governor of the colony was to sponsor and attend Christmas religious services. Perhaps fearing a militant Puritan backlash, for the 1686 services he was flanked by redcoats. The Puritan disdain for the holiday endured: As late as 1869, public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day.

I guess the pre-1869 Boston schoolchilren would have gotten a bye this week, since Christmas falls on a Sunday.

Another voice of note weighing in all this foolishness is Newsweek's Anna Quindlen (always worth reading, in my opinion) who points out that it's a weak faith that can be threatened by the more-inclusive, all-purpose "happy holidays."


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