Did 17th Century Protestants
Really Ban Christmas?
December 09, 2003
Tuesday - 12:50 am
Christmas in mid-17th century puritanical America was outlawed
by Protestant reformists as "another one of those idol-worshipping
religious festivals well worth expunging," says Colgate
University professor Anthony Aveni. Author of "The Book
of the Year - A History of Our Holidays," Aveni explores
the myths and origins of the December 25 holiday extending back
to Neolithic cultures. Here are a few facts Aveni notes about
- The Bible does not supply
concrete information on exactly when Christ was born. No astrological
indicators exist that point to December 25. The earliest record
comes from a 354 A.D. calendar description of a holiday in which
Romans lit candles to celebrate the sun's birthday.
- Church officials, "impressed
with the ritual's symbolic bringing back of light into the world,"
claimed the date. Roman Emperor Constantine officially recognized
the date as the celebration of Jesus' birth in 4th century A.D.
- The Middle Ages marked the
origin of many traditional Christmas symbols such as the Yule
log, holly, and caroling. The burning Yule log (Yule comes from
the Scandinavian jol or jul which means "jolly") symbolized
the time in which bonfires raged to "beckon the reappearance
of winter's holy light."
- The Farmer's Almanac also
got its start in the Middle Ages during the 12 days of Christmas.
People used these days to predict weather by recording sunny
and snowy days in a system that became the precursor of the modern
- Celebrations in Britain and
America waxed and waned between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Reformist Protestants levied fines on those individuals who dared
to miss work on Christmas in 17th century America.
- It was not until the early
19th century that German and Dutch Protestant immigrants resurrected
the holiday to its original status and Santa Claus became popular.
The name St. Nicholas gained prominence during the Victorian
era. Originally Santa was not regarded as the rotund gift bearer
in an airborne sled. American Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem
promoted this image.
- Santa's Rudolph the Red Nosed
Reindeer sprang from a commercial endeavor in 1939. A Montgomery
Ward employee wrote the original story as part of a promotional
"giveaway" program. The song gained prominence in the
"The paradox of Christmas
today lies in the confrontation of the consumer's strong materialism
sense and the decidedly nonmaterialistic values of religious
celebrants," Aveni says. "But obviously Christmas is
a reinvented tradition. Our capacity to change its meaning to
suit the times is the force that keeps it alive."
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