"Joy to the world, the Lord has come!"
Maybe the Puritans were right -- or prophetic. Like Scrooge and the American Civil Liberties Union, these early American Christians didn't believe in celebrating Christmas, either.
We can forgive a fictional character for declaring, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." And perhaps with an extra supply of teeth-gritting and an overflowing cup of tolerance we can even overlook the ACLU's intolerance of the Christmas traditions of the other 84 percent of the country.
But what was the Puritans' excuse? They knew the Bible story. They prayed and tithed, mixed church and state whenever they felt like it, and sang hymns all year long. They just didn't sing Christmas carols, or decorate trees, or observe the holiday in any way. And chances are these religious stalwarts were even more forceful about their Christmas prohibitions 350 years ago than the ACLU folks are of their holiday "thou-shalt-nots" today.
Since it's hard to imagine any two groups of people more opposed to each other than the Puritans and the ACLU, how could they possibly be on the same side in lambasting Christmas?
They weren't. Even though the actions of the two groups have produced similar results, the reasons for their respective "Bah humbugs!" couldn't be more different. Today's dissenters are doing all they can to re-establish America as a secular nation, while the Puritans were doing everything in their power to keep secularism out of the church.
As it turns out, both groups were/are being ultra politically correct. While the ACLU bends doubly over backward not to offend a single citizen, even to coining the new term "the sensitive person's veto," the Puritans -- or "pure ones" -- bent just as far to make sure nothing crept into their celebrations or theology that wasn't literally "in the Bible."
If, for example, somewhere in the Biblical narrative Luke had said, "And so it was that on Dec. 25, while they were in Bethlehem, (Mary) brought forth her firstborn son" (Luke 2:6-7, sort of), the Puritans might have accepted that day as the birthday of the Savior. And if, instead of angels singing from the courts of heaven to announce the birth of the Christ Child, Luke had added a paragraph about choirs and children singing as they danced around the manger -- yes, the word "carol" means "ring," and early carolers performed a round dance as they sang -- then perhaps the super-Christians wouldn't have objected to such a worldly practice.
So, while the ACLU keeps raising our awareness of "holiday" parties and decor, exchanging presents and filling the airwaves with songs about reindeer, snowmen and Santa coming to town or kissing Mommy, the Puritans debunked the whole shebang.
After all, telling a child that a hefty man in red could fit down their narrow stovepipe chimneys would be breaking the Ninth Commandment (bearing false witness). And concerning all those parties, another reason the Puritan hierarchy banned Christmas was because it had become another excuse for folks to get drunk and rowdy, and for what they called "aggressive begging." They acknowledged people might be observing the birth of Jesus at the same time, but they still condemned a celebration they considered "nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer."
Although the Puritans were more extreme than most Christians are today, I'd still like to think they had no less love for the Christ Child than the most devout among us have now. It would be nice if we weren't as picky as they were, but what a merry, joyful, exciting Christmas it would be if we, like they, celebrated the birth of Jesus all year long.
"For unto you is born this day -- any day -- in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!" (Luke 2:11, really)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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