Sunday, December 14, 2014

1836 Christmas in America

Overview

#Christmas was not originally celebrated here in America by Protestant #Christians.  The Puritans were against the celebration of Christmas since it was pagan in origin and was celebrated with other pagan elements (see here for more information) like the Christmas tree.

 Reflected below is a full transcript of an 1836 newspaper article regarding the history of Christmas and their reasons for thinking it should not be celebrated.  Click here to see original article in column three.

December 28, 1836 Vermont Telegraph – Christmas

It is known to all that have examined the subject, that we are entirely ignorant of the precise time of our Lord’s nativity.  There is good reason to believe that the Christian era itself is considerably inaccurate; that our Savior’s birth really took place about four years earlier than the time from which it is commonly reckoned; so that we are now in the year 1840, from the true period of his incarnation.  The cause of this error was, that even Christians, to say nothing of others, did not reckon time from the birth of Christ, till about the beginning of the sixth century after his advent; when it was no longer practicable to fix that great epoch with certainty.  The public archives had been destroyed by the burning of the greater part of the city of Rome, in the time of Nero, and probably by his order; and hence, although the empire in the sixth century had long since become Christian, the decree of Augustus for a general taxing which was contemporaneous with our Savior’s birth and the account of his death sent to Rome by Pilate, could not be resorted to in determining the exact time of these interesting and important events.

 The word Christmas is composed of the two words, Christ and Mass, and was first employed to denote the religious service made use of in the Roman Catholic church, in celebrating our Savior’s birth; nor is it improbable, that this very term has increased, if it did not originate the strong dislike, which some Protestants have always entertained and expressed against the performance of any religious service on the day called Christmas.

 There seems to be no probability that the great event which Christmas commemorates, happened on the 25th of December; and it is wonderful that Pope Julius, by whom that day was fixed for religious observance, should have decided as he did.  Two events, coincident with the incarnation of our Redeemer, are fully known – the resort of the Jews, from the most distance parts of Judea, to the city or place where they were born, that they might be enrolled and taxed – and the watching of their flocks by night, of the shepherds, in the vicinity of Bethlehem.  Now, it is very improbable that the season of the year, the most unfavorable of all for traveling, should have been assigned for the universal attendance of the Jews at the various places of enrolment:  and it is still more improbable, that in a climate not very different from that of the southern part of the United States,* shepherds should be “keeping watch over their flocks by night,” on the 25th of December – encamped as they clearly were, in the open fields.  Those who have investigated the subject most carefully have placed our Lord’s nativity somewhere between the middle of August, and the middle of November; and the best and prevalent opinion is that it happened in the latter part of September, or in the early part of October.

 We have no evidence that Christmas was ever observed as a religious festival till toward the end of the second century of the Christian era, under the Roman emperor Commodus.  The observance of it, however, soon became general, and continued so till the time of the Protestant reformation.  Neither, indeed, was its observance proscribed or discountenanced by the reformers, otherwise than that this might seem to be implied in the great Protestant principle that the Scriptures alone contain the laws and institutions which are binding on conscience and obligatory on the church, and that in the Scriptures, there is certainly no command, nor any recorded usage of the primitive church, in favor of the observance of Christmas.  The Protestant churches, nevertheless, both Lutheran and Calvinistic, have, in fact, generally observed the day not only as a season of social festivity, but by the performance of some religious service, commemorative of the birth of Christ.  It is believed that the Scotch church and the English puritans, with their descendants, stand alone, among all the reformed churches whose origin is ? with the reformation, in their refusal to celebrate Christmas in a religious manner – esteeming such a celebration as a departure from the fundamental principle of Protestantism, already mentioned and viewing in as dangerous to make any observance habitual, without a clear scriptural warrant; or to act as if any other day than the Sabbath could lawfully be regarded as sacred.  We are now prepared to make the following summary statement.

1.       That the religious observance of the day called Christmas, is not a divine institution, and therefore to represent of regard it as such, is contrary to truth and duty.

2.       That the day of the year, and even the month in which our Savior was born, is not known. – The day of his crucifixion we know exactly.  It is ascertained by the Jewish Passover, the annual return of which is most clearly specified in the Pentateuch, and has been punctually observed by the Jews in every successive age.  But in the providence of God, we are not permitted to know the day on which our blessed Lord became incarnate.

3.       That the incarnation or nativity of the Redeemer of the world, is unquestionably an event which we ought often to recollect, with the deepest admiration and the most lively gratitude, and on suitable occasions to celebrate in social worship.

4.       That since the second century of the Christian era, the great body of Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, have assigned a specific day for the commemoration of the great event by which a Savior was given to the world.

5.       That some Protestant sects notwithstanding, refuse to observe this day, because they have no scriptural warrant for such an observance, and therefore, think that it is wrong in itself, and likely to be followed by very bad consequences.

*Bethlehem, in Judea, is placed on maps in Lat. 33 deg. 36 min north, which is very nearly the latitude of Charleston, S. C.

---Christian Advocate