The Pilgrims’ “War On Christmas”

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

It’s that time of year again. That time when many Christians imagine themselves persecuted by a secular “War on Christmas.” Interestingly, the “War on Christmas” has Christian roots. Pilgrims, who were strict Puritans, believed that “[t]hey for whom all days are holy can have no holiday.” Those holidays also included Christmas and Easter. Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims would have not been a holy day.

The Puritans saw Christmas as a pagan holiday, co-opted by the Roman Catholic Church, from the birthday of the sun god Mithra, which occurred on the winter solstice on December 21. Apples were added to Christmas trees, later to become ornaments, to represent the Garden of Eden. Pagan wreaths of holly were said to represent of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.

In 1645, Puritans in the English Parliament got Christmas eliminated as a national holiday. When Puritans came to Massachusetts, they continued their boycott of the Christmas holiday for decades. The boycott applied to non-Puritans as well. When a group of non-Puritan workers were found playing sports in celebration of Christmas, Gov. William Bradford took away their sporting implements and told them “there should be no gaming, or revelling in the streets.”

In 1710, Cotton Mather, a politically influential Puritan minister, now best known from the Salem witch trials, told his flock: “the feast of Christ’s nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”

While the Pilgrims’ independence and work ethic is represented as an ideal of America, the religious tolerance present in today’s America and enshrined in the First Amendment, would have been unthinkable to the Pilgrims.

The contradistinction between the top four, of the Ten Commandments, and the freedom of religious expression guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, gives lie to the claim that this country was founded on Christian principles.

H/T: The Week, Jon Ponder, Unreasonable Faith.

56 thoughts on “The Pilgrims’ “War On Christmas”

  1. Nal,

    “While the Pilgrims’ independence and work ethic is represented as an ideal of America, the religious tolerance present in today’s America and enshrined in the First Amendment, would have been unthinkable to the Pilgrims.”

    Now there can be no dispute about that!

    Fornication Unmarried couple who refuses to get married after incident: whipping, fine of £10, and three or less days in prison

    Unmarried couple who agree to get married after incident: £10 fine, but no whipping.

    Couple already engaged to be married at time of incident: fine of 50 shillings

    Cursing God Three hours (or less) in the public stocks

    Lying in public Fine of 10 shillings. If can’t pay, then 2 hours in the stocks

    Stealing Repay double the value of what was stolen, or be publicly whipped

    Getting drunk Fined, value to be determined by the magistrates

    Gambling with dice or cards Fine of 40 shillings

    Wearing visors or other “strange” apparel Fine of 50 shillings

    Defacing a landmark Fine ranging from 20 shillings to 5 pounds, depending on severity

    Tearing down or burning someone’s fence Rebuild the fence, plus a 50 shilling fine for first offense, 5 pound fine for second offense

    Denying the Scriptures Whipping, severity to be determined by magistrates, but never to endanger life or limb.

    Failing to attend church 10 shilling fine

    Working (laboring) on Sunday 10 shilling fine

    Traveling on Sunday 20 shilling fine

    Harboring a Quaker 20 shillings per week, after being warned.

    Member of the militia 12 pence fine for failing to bring your loaded gun to church with you

    Plymouth Colony imposed a fine on all freeman who failed to vote.

    BTW … while the Presbyterians were going through all their witchcraft trials, up in Plymouth only 2 women were suspected of witchcraft … one never went to trial and the other was acquitted.

  2. Wearing visors or other “strange” apparel Fine of 50 shillings
    ====================================================

    now i have this vision of a pilgrim kid walking around with his pilgrim hat on backwards and black baggy pants down to his crotch.

    busta flintlock in yo @ss

  3. Bob – about JCs birthday. The Bible says the shepherds were out in the fields tending their flocks. They would not be doing that in December. If that bit of the story is true it would have been spring or summer. There was also some reason I have now forgotten why a census would not take place in December. There is an awful lot of discussion of this online (some of it actually useful, interesting and scholarly!)

    The actual date will always be lost in history and really shouldn’t matter as it is irrelevant to the story being told. The Winter Solstice is a good time for a hearty party I guess. If the early church got there through a cynical calculation thats their problem

  4. From Plimoth Plantation:

    Faith of the Pilgrims
    http://www.plimoth.org/what-see-do/17th-century-english-village/faith-pilgrims

    Excerpt:
    Who were the Pilgrims?

    If we really want to understand them, we must try to look beyond the legends and see them as they saw themselves. They were English people who sought to escape the religious controversies and economic problems of their time by emigrating to America.

    Many of the Pilgrims were members of a Puritan sect known as the Separatists. They believed that membership in the Church of England violated the biblical precepts for true Christians, and they had to break away and form independent congregations that adhered more strictly to divine requirements. A passage from the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians gave urgency to their actions. The Geneva translation for Second Corinthians 6: 16-18 reads:

    (16) And what agrement hathe the Temple of God with idoles? for ye are the Temple of the living God: as God hathe said, I wil dwell among them, and walke there; and I wil be their God, and shalbe my people. (17) Wherefore come out from among them, and separate your selves, faith the Lord: and touche none uncleane thing, & I wil receive you. (18) And I wil be a Father unto you, and ye shalbe my sonnes and daughters, saith the Lord almightie.

    At a time when Church and State were one, such an act was treasonous and the Separatists had to flee their mother country. Other Pilgrims remained loyal to the national Church but came because of economic opportunity and a sympathy with Puritanism. They all shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith that touched all areas of their lives.

    As English people, the Pilgrims also shared a vital secular culture both learned and traditional. They lived in a time that accepted fairies and witches, astrological influences, seasonal festivals and folklore as real parts of their lives. They looked at the world they lived in not as we do today – through the eyes of quantum physics and psychology – but through the folklore of the countryside and academic traditions that stretched back to antiquity. They were both thorough Protestants of the recent Reformation and the inheritors of the Medieval worldview that infused the imaginations of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

    The Separatist Faith

    The Separatists’ faith experience was part of the larger English Reformation of the 16th century. This movement sought to “purify” the Church of England of its corrupt human doctrine and practices; the people in the movement were known as “Puritans.” Separatists were those Puritans who no longer accepted the Church of England as a true church, refused to work within the structure to affect changes, and “separated” themselves to form a true church based solely on Biblical precedent. Puritans rejected Christmas, Easter and the various Saint’s Days because they had no scriptural justification, and in their worship services, they rejected hymns, the recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and creeds for the same reason.

    The Separatists believed that the worship of God must progress from the individual directly to God, and that “set” forms, like the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, interfered with that progression by directing one’s thoughts down to the book and inward to one’s self. The only exceptions were the Psalms and the Lord’s Supper, both of which had scriptural basis, and possibly the covenant by which individuals joined the congregation. As Pastor Robinson expressed it, even two or three “gathered in the name of Christ by a covenant [and] made to walk in all the ways of God known unto them is a church.”

  5. Thanks, Woosty. That explains why we have to go get plastic toys in primary colors on the day after Thanksgiving every year. I KNEW there was a heavenly reason for that! 😛

  6. Frankly,
    I agree, it’s a story. Trying to anchor it with real temporal dates is similar to attempting to narrow down just when and where The Hobbit took place.

  7. “…imagine themselves persecuted by a secular “War on Christmas.”

    Almost every day, we read articles where a judge forces a Nativity Scene to be taken down, or a Christmas Tree must be moved our taken down, or another school has to change its calendar from “Christmas Holidays” to some generic “winter festival” or something of that sort.

    It’s always amusing to read how these articles are slanted on this blog. Is this writer of this blog actually ignorant, or is just choosing to conveniently ignore the yearly attack on Christmas?

  8. Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

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