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“The Disagreement Was Between Christians”: What Did The Puritans Have Against Christmas?

Another Christmas, another string of outrages about the supposed “War on Christmas.”

In November there was the social media furor about Starbucks’ red cups, as Ed Simon relates here in RD.

Then this month, 36 Republican U.S. House members introduced a resolution “that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.”

And in the most recent CNN-sponsored debate among Republican presidential candidates, Wolf Blitzer’s closing Merry Christmas wish prompted two Fox News hosts to declare victory, claiming that their side had won the War on Christmas: http://youtu.be/hgUaXo9URCM

Whatever the recent skirmishes, this kind of controversy is not new. American disagreements about the celebration of Christmas reach back to the nation’s colonial beginnings—where ironically, it was a Christian group, Puritans, that offered the discouraging words.

When the Church of England broke away from Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, Calvinist reformers (those Puritans) felt that the new English church did not go far enough in removing Catholic elements. One practice the Puritans opposed was the annual December celebration of Christmas, which they saw as a Catholic innovation not justified by scripture. They claimed that the earliest Christians had no such observance (which was true, because it took more than two hundred years after Jesus’ lifetime before Christians began an annual observance about the nativity of the Christ child).

Puritans also disapproved of the wild partying that seemed widespread on Christmas Day in England. Thus, during the Puritan Revolution in England in the 1600s, Puritans banned special church services on December 25 and mandated that businesses remain open.

In the American colonies the result was more complicated. Puritan New England actively discouraged Christmas: for a few years the Massachusetts General Court threatened fines for anyone found feasting, or absent from work, on Christmas Day. The long term result was that English-speaking dissenters from the Church of England, in the colonial era and in the early years of the new nation, tended to either actively oppose or at least ignore Christmas—that included Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers.

However, other colonists came from parts of Europe not affected by Puritan opposition, and they brought their Christmas celebrations with them, unhindered: Germans, Scandinavians, and the Dutch who founded New Amsterdam (later New York). So Lutherans, Catholics, and the Dutch Reformed celebrated Christmas, along with the Church of England that continued restrained Christmas observances.

As a result of this mixture, in the American colonies and then in the new nation, there was no national consensus supporting Christmas, and the disagreement was between Christians.

American Christmas wouldn’t come roaring back, becoming nearly universal, until the mid-1800s, but it was not because of any campaign by churches. Most credit for the return and advance of Christmas goes to  major cultural influences like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the morphing of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus. Dickens’ famous story did not reflect the Christmas of his time but instead was an attempt to resurrect and reinvent Christmas, and it was incredibly successful. A Christmas Carol contains very little direct reference to religion and says nothing about a baby in a manger—but it does promote a spirit of giving and care for others that can be embraced by almost anyone.

The point here is that the Puritan suppression of Christmas created a vacuum, and when Christmas re-emerged and flourished in the 1800s its new form had less of a religious emphasis and was centered more on family and generosity. Christians could embrace those themes gladly, as very consistent with their values and beliefs, but others could also embrace that kind of a Christmas spirit without being especially religious.

In a sense, what emerged were two kinds of Christmas: a Christian Christmas and a cultural Christmas. In modern-day expression of Christianity, some are able to combine the two seamlessly, but others strongly emphasize one or the other. What has been called the secularization of Christmas might also be described as an emphasis on the cultural Christmas, with less interest in the religious version. The outworking of this two-fold Christmas continues to this day, and it is part of what enlivens the ‘War on Christmas’ debates.

But it was the Puritans who started it.

 

By: Bruce David Forbes, Religion Dispatches, December 22, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Christmas, Puritans, War on Christmas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Story Easy To Imagine Unfolding Today”: The Simple, Clear, And Still Radical Meaning Of The Christmas Story

The celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a significant event for everyone raised in Western cultures, whether or not we happen to share the Christian faith – so meaningful that the Christmas holiday has been seized for partisan dispute, with even the most profane and irreligious political figures pretending to defend its purity.

These characters complain of a supposed “war on Christmas,” swearing to impose their own customs and even specific greetings on the entire population of the nation, which was founded on freedom from religious coercion of any kind. This year, the self-styled Christian warriors obsess over the Starbucks seasonal coffee cup, the latest proof that their protests have descended into parody.

Still, these ferocious displays of piety beg a deeper and more serious question. What is the real message of the Christmas story in our time?

It is a story, not a history, as scholars have observed in noting that the Biblical accounts as set down by Luke and Matthew differ in salient ways. But the narrative details of religious allegory need not distract anyone from the message, except those who demand that we interpret Scripture as literal truth, with intent to punish.

It is the story of a child born to a carpenter and his wife, the working class of ancient Judea, who lived under the rule of a distant dictatorial regime and its local enforcers — the one percent of their time. Joseph and Mary were homeless and in at least one version, they were refugees from political oppression. Rejected by society, they were driven into a manger, the equivalent of a cardboard shelter, where Jesus was born among the animals.

And it is a story easy to imagine unfolding today, in a Bronx homeless shelter or a camp tent on a Greek island. Oblivious politicians assure us that we need not concern ourselves with such people and that we can, in good conscience, turn away even children under five years of age for the sake of our own comfort and safety — even as they constantly assure us of their Christian morality.

The story of Christmas is not a political parable but an allegory of light brought into a dark and suffering world, on a date that coincides not accidentally with the winter solstice. Its newborn prophet is a harbinger of divine love for all, most emphatically including the sinners, the impious, the unclean, the unaccepted, the foreigner, the stranger, and the impoverished.

A true appreciation of the Christmas story can only grow from those fundamental insights, not from indignant ranting about paper coffee cups and greeting cards.

Its teaching is straightforward and clear and in the most benign sense radical: Bless the poor, the homeless, the workers, all those destitute and hungry, and especially the infants, children, and mothers. Treat them not with suspicion or hostility or meanness, but with kindness and generosity. Support every effort, public and private, to relieve the privations of humanity, both here and across the world. Cherish every child as your own, whatever their religion or race or nationality.

It is a message so simple that everyone — even Christians like Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Chris Christie — should be able to understand.

So Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And peace be with you.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, December 24, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Christmas, GOP Presidential Candidates, War on Christmas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Touchy-Feely Organization”: All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn’t Want To Mention Guns

Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization’s most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns. In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the “National Rifle Association of America” with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word ‘America’ even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is significant insofar as the word “gun” is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once. You would think that the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun. And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone’s point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by white males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America — seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there’s always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA’s African-American spokesperson.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan “it’s morning again in America” campaign ads from 1984. Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party-lite condemnation about the problems we face — government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime — and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the “good guys,” the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound. And who are these good guys? They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can’t imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all. But I don’t think that’s the point. What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you’ll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way. And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera, which is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home. Like the other chains, Panera isn’t posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn’t a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again. The fact that Panera’s announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social “communities” in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, September 10, 2014

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , | Leave a comment

Staples Co-Founder: Allowing Women To Breastfeed At Work Will Cost Jobs

Staples co-founder Tom Stemberg is speaking out against a serious threat to economic recovery and job creation: breastfeeding moms.

Stemberg, a longtime supporter of Republican policies and candidates like Mitt Romney, complained recently that President Obama’s health care reform law hurts businesses by requiring them to provide what he dubbed “lactation chambers” for new moms who need to breastfeed at work:

Tom Stemberg, co-founder of mega-office supply chain Staples is questioning an Obamacare provision that discourages job creation by dictating employers funnel their capital into lactation chambers.

Do you want [farming retailer] Tractor Supply to open stores or would you rather they take their capital and do what Obamacare and its 2,700 pages dictates – which is to open a lactation chamber at every single store that they have?” he asked.

“I’m big on breastfeeding; my wife breastfed,” Stenberg added. “I’m all for that. I don’t think every retail store in America should have to go to lactation chambers, which is what Obamacare foresees.

Stemberg was presumably referring to provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require employers to give lactating mothers “reasonable break time” to nurse their child, as well as  “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public…” The place they provide for new moms does not have to be a dedicated room as long as it’s private and can be called into use when female employees need it.

Stemberg, who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Romney’s campaign and SuperPAC, added that repealing the health care law should be at the top of the next president’s “to-do” list.

As of early January, the Labor Department had already cited 23 companies, including Starbucks and McDonald’s stores, for violating the new protections for breastfeeding employees.

By: Marie Diamond, Think Progress, February 7, 2012

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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