Casting Out Devils

Speaking Conservative Truth to Evil-Doers

A Merrie Olde Xmas

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Publick Notice Christmas Ban

Publick Notice Christmas Ban

For most Americans, Christmas has long been a secular holiday.  In the midst of all the Santas, elves, and reindeer, the holly, spruce, and pine, it is possible to go for days without hearing a truly religious Christmas carol on store sound systems or on the radio.

In fact, non-Christian Christmas celebrations are nothing new, being rooted in paganism.  Unable to wean primitive cultures from their pagan festivals, the Church centuries ago opted to “Christianize” those holidays, adding Christian content and symbolism.

In 17th-century England, however, Christmas had degenerated into an occasion for drunken revelry and mocking of religious institutions.  As one commentator observes,

Moreover, all over Britain it had become the custom for the town rabblerousers to elect a King of Misrule at Christmas, who, according to a Puritan observer, led his followers “into the Devil’s own recreation to mock at Holy things.”  Masquerading in fancy green and yellow costumes, bells tied to their ankles, they would dance through the quiet churchyard and on into the church itself.  Ignoring the Mass being read, they pranced on wooden hobby horses up the center aisle.  To the accompanying din of skirling pipes and rattling drums, the poor protesting priest was pulled from his place while the shameless King of Misrule took his place and desecrated the altar by drinking and dicing before it.  Meanwhile, riotous companions drowned out the measured music of the Mass with coarse shouts of ‘Yule, Yule, Yule’ . . . .

Twelfth Night Revelry

Twelfth Night Revelry

Clergy were at times physically abused by such rabble, and the hanging of mistletoe was the occasion for much “promiscuous kissing,” abhorred by the Puritans.  In 1644, at the height of the English Civil Wars, Puritans gained power and made the celebration of Christmas illegal.  In America, Puritans decreed that “No one shall keep Christmas or any saint day, read common prayer, make mince pies, dance, play cards or play any instrument of music except the drum, trumpet and jews harp.”

How are Christians to react to the secularization of Christmas today?  A Puritan legalistic backlash is certainly inappropriate.  Our aim is not to force people into unwilling conformity with our preferences, but to win over their hearts and minds with the truth of the Gospel.  Unfortunately, when in power the Church has been more apt to use force, and less likely to approach secular people with the love and patience required to persuade.

To quote the old song George Beverly Shea used to sing, let’s “Put Christ Back Into Christmas,” but start with ourselves.

[Source: Katharine Van Etten Lyford, “Victory of the Christmas Keepers” in Austin N. Stevens, Mysterious New England (Yankee Publishing, 1971), pp. 18-23.]

© 2002 Paul A. Hughes.

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Written by biblequestion

December 22, 2010 at 12:54 AM

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