“No, I don’t think so...” she answered, although her reason caught me by surprise. She went on to say, “..I am conflicted about putting up holiday decorations...do you know the origin of the Christmas tree? There’s so much pagan influence. I feel that God is testing me every time I go out to shop...” “Did you know Christmas was outlawed in the U.S. for a time?” she asked me.
“What? ...no..” I replied, and then added somewhat flippantly, “Well, if it was, it probably had something to do with Puritan influence.”
I listened to her thoughts and concerns with wonder. I knew that decorating her home for Christmas had been such a pleasure in years past for her and a Christmastime staple for her kids. I recognized that her Christian heart and attitudes were reflected in the beauties of their home during the holidays.
I stammered a bit when she finished explaining about her convictions to leave all trimmings in the closet this year and asked if I could relate. “Uhhh....well, no, honestly I can’t relate. I don’t see anything wrong with putting up a tree, especially with our symbols that point to Christ. And I don’t think the pagans have any claim to our joyful celebrations of Christ’s birth; the Feast of the Nativity has been observed for centuries! I can understand the frustration with the commercialization in the U.S., but to abandon the idea all together because of ancient pagan practice....well, no. I don’t understand.
Do you know that when St. Patrick converted the pagans, many of their lands, sacred hills and groves were reclaimed for Christ?! “
Before hanging up, I promised I would look into it further, specifically the issue of Christmas being banned in the U.S., while curbing my desire to sway her opinion thus disrespecting her stand.
It’s true that Christmas was banned in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681 and sure enough, it was Puritan influence that accomplished it. With a motive to purge and reform the Church of England, religious art was condemned as idolatrous, ritual kept to a minimum and absolutely no feasting, decorating or keeping of the “old superstitious customs of England” in celebrating Christmas.
Interesting how Tradition may be manipulated and justified by the hands of those seeking to purify Christ’s Church. The Puritans are a curious lot to me, they sought freedom from religious tyranny (although, from what I’ve read, the Church of England was, for the most part, tolerant of their extreme views) and yet, as soon as they were liberated in the new land, enacted one of their own.
"For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county."
From the records of the General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony May 11, 1659
To be fair, in some regard I can understand this misguided Puritan view, inasmuch as I dislike witnessing overindulgence in food/drink/commercialism associated with Christmas and other holidays, but must we throw the baby out with the bath water? Can we not discern the spirit of vanity and indulgence with the spirit of joy at Christ’s coming in the flesh?
The Feast of the Nativity has been celebrated since the 4th century! I don’t think it’s significant that historians cannot accurately identify Jesus’ birthdate, what is important is that we have occasion to look to His coming - to observe Advent - every year. A cycle of the liturgical calendar that brings a time of reflection, fasting and joyful feasting as we proclaim “God has come in the flesh! The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace has come to dwell among us!!” How can we NOT celebrate the Incarnation?!
The pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice during Samhain, the Romans held the festival of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) on December 25th and so, it is argued that because of these wicked idolatrous rituals, Christians are partaking of pagan worship by adorning trees, lighting candles, using a yule log or the colors of red and green, decorating with evergreen or mistletoe or even feasting on this day. The Puritans would say it was “a pagan festival with a Christian veneer”.
Does God not have authority over creation? Is it not Almighty God who makes the trees to grow and blesses the hands who fashions the beeswax candles? Does He not bless us through their fragrance so pure? Did St. Brigid not build a great community of Christians in ancient druid oak groves? She had no fear of former ties to those who practiced magic because she knew it was a land being converted, a place of transformation with God the Creator at the helm, bringing a people out of darkness to Light.
I have no qualms about decorating for Christmas, in putting up a tree with lights and ornaments that are both sentimental and religious or the Nativity scene which graces our mantle every year. I enjoy setting out our Advent wreath and letting the children light a new candle each Sunday. These are adornments used in celebration of Christ which have inadvertently forged bonds and created family traditions. They are not objects of worship, yet they remind us continually of our joy and wonder in our God who came in the flesh.