Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas

OB-RD679_hitche_OR_20111223171154A previously unpublished, oddly timely, contrarian piece by the late Christopher Hitchens in the WSJ Online (I'm still celebrating by the way):

[T]he thing about the annual culture war that would probably most surprise those who want to “keep the Christ in Christmas” is this: The original Puritan Protestants regarded the whole enterprise as blasphemous. Under the rule of Oliver Cromwell in England, Christmas festivities were banned outright. The same was true in some of the early Pilgrim settlements in North America.

Last year I read a recent interview with the priest of one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in New York, located downtown and near Wall Street. Taking a stand in favor of Imam Rauf's “Ground Zero” project, he pointed to some parish records showing hostile picketing of his church in the 18th century. The pious protestors had been voicing their suspicion that a profane and Popish ceremonial of “Christ Mass” was being conducted within.

Now, that was a time when Americans took their religion seriously. But we know enough about Puritans to suspect that what they really disliked was the idea of a holiday where people would imbibe strong drink and generally make merry. (Scottish Presbyterians did not relax their hostility to Yuletide celebrations until well into the 20th century.) And the word “Yule” must be significant here as well, since pagans of all sorts have been roistering at the winter solstice ever since records were kept, and Christians have been faced with the choice of either trying to beat them or join them.

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