Thursday, December 25, 2008
More War on Christmas
Here is an excerpt of an excerpt from The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford, available at the NPR website:
... There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England [when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol], no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of "Yuletide greetings," no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no orgy of gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), no holiday lighting extravaganzas, and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior. In fact, despite all of Dickens's enthusiasms, the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George's Day does today. In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise of celebrating Christmas smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks.
In fact, for much of the first two centuries of settlement in New England, Christmas was scarcely celebrated. As Yule scholar Stephen Nissenbaum points out, from 1659 to 1681 there was actually a law on the books in the Massachusetts Colony that forbade the practice and levied a fine of five shillings upon anyone caught in the act. Sitting down with their new native friends for a Thanksgiving feast might have been perfectly acceptable, but when Governor William Bradford discovered a few of his fellow Pilgrims trying to celebrate Christmas the year after their arrival, he broke up the ceremonies and ordered everyone back to their jobs.