Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Support for a Secular Christmas   5 comments

Above:  The Oldest Mass-Produced Christmas Card, from 1850

We believe in Christmas–not as a holy day but as a holiday and we join with our juveniles with utmost heartiness of festal celebration….Stripped as it ought to be, of all pretensions of religious sanctity and simply regarded as a social and domestic institution–an occasion of housewarming, and heart-warming, and innocent festivity, we welcome its coming with a hearty “All-Hail.”

Baptist Teacher, 1875 (quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites:  The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, Princeton University Press, 1995)

Within a week I will attend two Christmas services.  The first will begin late in the night of December 24, and extend past midnight.  After sleep I will attend a late morning service on Christmas Day.  As a practicing Episcopalian, the religious observation of Christmas is natural to me.  Also, I have become less materialistic with the march of time, so my greatest Christmas wish for myself is to be in church when December 25 begins.

This is a pious attitude rooted in the conviction that the Christ should occupy the center of Christmas celebrations and observances.  I maintain this stance without resorting to crankiness (which does not become me) regarding the commercialization of Christmas in the United States.  Yes, I find the presence of Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween mildly irritating.  But life is short, so why should I want to spend it in a perpetual complaint mode?  Rather, I keep my holy Advent and Christmas, each in its proper time, and drop out quietly of the secular perversion of my beloved holiday season.

Yet many Victorian Low Church Protestants, with their suspicions of Roman Catholicism, resisted the celebration of Christmas as a holy time, as the 1875 quote from Baptist Teacher, a publication for Sunday School teachers, indicates.  And, as late as 1890s, many Presbyerians remained suspicious, also.  Consider the following (approved) resolution from the 1899 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (known commonly as the Southern Presbyterian Church):

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv.9-11; Colossians ii.16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

Yet evangelical Protestant support for a holy Christmas existed, too.  Many Methodists, for example, favored a religous observation in lieu of late December drunkenness. Also, many of the now-familiar Christmas carols date to the 1800s.  “Away in a Manger” is from 1887, for example.  Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Moravians had maintained the traditional keeping of a holy Christmas, and many Low Church Protestants attended Christmas services of one of these denominations, regardless of what their pastor or congregation said about that.  The birth of Jesus attracted many people to churches on December 24 and 25, as was appropriate.

This Christmas season (December 25-January 5) I will read the assigned daily lections according to the Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  I encourage you to do the same.

And may the love and peace of Jesus of Nazareth, fully human and fully divine, be with you now and forever.  Amen.


DECEMBER 18, 2009

Amended July 10, 2010

Amended December 5, 2013




Posted September 14, 2010 by neatnik2009

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: