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. Thank Dog that the Founders of the Republic, the soldiers at Valley Forge and Framers of the Constitution were not a bunch of damn pilgrams. If you take the Tea Baggers who spout off today about the glory of the Boston Tea Party episode, and then look at the politics of these Tea Baggers, then you know that they would have been sitting cuddly in Philiadelphia with King George’s troops rather than eating grass out at Valley Forge with George Washington. The Tea Baggers get their Georges mixed up. It is a shame that those friggin Pilgrams had to come over here and camp on Plymouth Rock. But, their diatribe did not last all that long and has turned itto platitude and BS. Massachusetts gave us Mitt Romeny and that should tell you something about the legacy of the Pilgrams in Mass. Or after Mass.

    Now, to my important question to fellow bloggers. Was not Christ really born in July and did not the Church move his BD up into the pagan holiday season to co-opt the revelers? Is that not the origin of the word Coptic? I heard that story when I was in Jerusalem from a rather abashed holy roller who was over there on some learning quest. Let me know what you know. Inquring minds want to know.

    I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no war on Christmas. Papa says, ‘If you see it on FAUX News it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a War on Christmas?


    No war on Christmas?
    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by rationality in an irrational age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not provable by rational observation. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, can be little. The reaction to this great universe of ours can be for man to be a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a war on Christmas. It exists as certainly as hate and stinginess and demagoguery exist, and you know that they abound and give to their life its highest ugly and lowest meaning. Alas! How merry might be the world if there were a war on Christmas. It might be as merry as if there were no teabagers. There would be no inchoate hate then, no petty sniping, no panic to make less tolerable this existence. We should have enjoyment, except in insensate cruelty and slights. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be increased.

    Not believe in the war on Christmas! You might as well not believe in T-bone eating Bucks! You might get your papa to hire men to watch all of FAUX News to catch the war dispatches, but even if they did not witness BillO frothing at the mouth, what would that prove? Nobody sees the war on Christmas, but that is a sign that there is a real war on Christmas. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see (according to FAUX News). Did you ever see welfare queens driving Cadillacs on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the evils there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    No war on Christmas!? Thank God! it lives, and it lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, it will continue to make mad the ‘brains’ of morans.

    Copyright NutMEG Light Industries, 2012

  3. Nal,

    Some people invent their own history–history as they would like it to be.


    Father Christmas, Get Thee Hence!
    Why We Have No Christmas at Plimoth Plantation

    Each Thanksgiving, national attention turns to the Pilgrims and Plimoth Plantation basks in the warm glow of celebrity. However, the moment must be caught quickly, for scarcely has the Thanksgiving dinner been cleared away before the Christmas season roars in, sweeping away all thoughts of the Pilgrim festival—and the Plantation.

    We are sometimes asked if Plimoth Plantation could latch onto the Christmas holiday magic as well. Christmas provides a popular—and lucrative—opportunity for many museums. Michigan’s Greenfield Village has an enormous indoor Christmas tree, sleigh rides and other Christmas observations. Colonial Williamsburg spruces itself up with “colonial” decorations, parades, and other events for what is one of the most profitable seasons of the museum’s year.

    The insurmountable objection to Christmas at Plimoth Plantation—or for that matter, at any museum of early New England life—is that Christmas simply wasn’t a part of the New England history. At Plymouth in December, 1620, a rainy Christmas day was spent building the new houses. Aboard the Mayflower, Master Jones passed around a special ration of beer, but for those ashore, there was no observation of the day. The most famous Christmas in Plymouth Colony occurred in 1621. When the colonists were called to work as usual, the new immigrants who had arrived aboard the Fortune two weeks earlier objected to working on the holiday. The Mayflower men went to work in the woods and fields as usual, but when they returned at dinner time, they found the new comers playing at stool-ball, pitching the bar and so forth. Governor Bradford took away their toys and told them that they should not revel in the streets while others worked, and noted that “since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.”

    This set the tone for Christmas in New England. The Separatists and Puritans, finding no warrant for Christmas in the Bible, simply rejected the day as one of the nefarious human interventions of which they sought to rid the church. The holiday was made illegal between 1659 and 1681, following English Puritan precedent. When the Restoration of 1660 led to the revival of Christmas in England, New England remained unimpressed and Christmas-less. Christmas was simply another workday for most people in New England until well into the 19th century. Some Episcopalian families and a few others observed the holiday but the majority continued in the New England tradition.

  4. “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.”
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Thomas Jefferson

    …and the breaches by our Statesmen into that DMZ between action and thought are ever increasing these days….I hope enlightenment catches up with them before the breach becomes irreparable and we lose that freedom of religion because we were not strong enough to protect our Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and civil rights…

  5. “Massachusetts gave us Mitt Romeny and that should tell you something about the legacy of the Pilgrams in Mass. Or after Mass.”~CaptRatty
    IAMFROM Massachusettes.

    Romney was a moro……eh, mormon. Willard Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Michigan,

  6. News from a place where we think that theocracy is embedded. Predictions that theocracy in Iran is not sitting well and will be replaced by a new revolution soon. The mullahs are regarded as rich parasites.
    And young women wear tights topped with micro-skirts in public, waist-length hair with the obligatory shawl on the shoulders. What is Iran coming to? Puritanism? Hardly.

  7. The ‘War on Christmas’ is waged for show and ratings
    December 20, 2011

    The Fox News Channel is unlikely to draw a bead on the National Rifle Association as one of its targets in the phony “War on Christmas.”

    Fox would rather do an ambush interview with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee for the sin of erecting a “holiday tree.” Still, big as life on the NRA’s website, is a “Happy Holidays” greeting coupled with a come-on for donations to fight President Obama’s re-election.

    We’ve grown used to the phony war waged by those who would milk the Feast of the Nativity for ratings and riches. We are witnessing, as New York Times scribe Alessandra Stanley recently wrote, a “cherished Fox News holiday tradition of mixing persecution and poinsettia.”

    What’s offensive, to this believer, is the hijacking of a feast’s meaning by those whose business is to make noise and generate fear.

    A joyous St. James Cathedral concert of children’s choirs last Sunday featured readings of scripture unmistakable in message. They described a vulnerable baby, born to a couple who could not find room at the inn, threatened by a secular king who committed infanticide in hopes of eliminating the Christ child.

    As editor-evangelical Jim Wallis wrote this week in Sojourners:
    “That Jesus was born poor, later announces his mission at Nazareth as ‘bringing good news to the poor,’ and finally tells us that how we treat ‘the least of these’ is his measure of how we treat him and how he will judge us as the Son of God, radically defines the social context and meaning of the Incarnation of God in Christ. And it clearly reveals the real meaning of Christmas.”

    The generals of our “War on Christmas,” by contrast, are symbols and advocates of wealth and privilege.

    Bill O’Reilly at Fox News, the self-described “watchdog” of Christmas, reportedly takes home $14 million a year. The network’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, put down $45 million for a Rockefeller “townhouse” a few Christmases ago.

    The gospel readings Sunday at St. James spoke of the birth of a “prince of peace.” As the concert drew to a close, the cathedral darkened, candles were lit and the congregation sang “Silent Night” with its familiar refrain: “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

    On the right-wing airwaves, however, there is no peace. Its staples are the bearing of false witness and dark intimations.

    The hypocrisy can be jaw-dropping. “Fox & Friends” took out after Tulsa, Okla., last year for changing the name of its “Christmas Parade of Lights” to the “Holiday Parade of Lights.”

    Yet, there on my screen were pictures of the hosts making merry at the “Fox & Friends Holiday Party.”

  8. Capt – “X” was the Greek letter that early Xians used to represent Christ. They did this mostly in Rome to avoid persecution. “Xmas” was almost a point of pride to some Xians in the 50’s & 60’s (thats as far back as I can attest to) because it represented overcoming repression. This is just another example of people not knowing their own history & then looking for an excuse to be ‘injured’.

  9. For me If I could I would prefer celebrating Christmas in Europe, namely I have been to France, The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. If you want to experience a true Christmas in my view the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets) in Basel, Switzerland was one of the best Christmases of my adulthood, Frankfurt was good also.

    If only I could be there right now, sipping a warm cup of glühwein and being in joy. Its not just the shops, the atmosphere there is fundamentally better than what we have to settle for here. If you have been there you would know what I mean.

  10. Thank you, Nal and also Elaine’s post @ 10:15am.

    As a child growing up in a Congregational Church/Scot descent household, the celebration of Christmas only went into full gear after the Vets from WW II came home, according to my mother, father, aunts, uncles, older cousins etc. Up until 1946, my entire family treated Christmas as just another day as had their ancestors going back to 1595 which was the year the first one landed on these shores.

    Our big party time was New Years Eve/Day. No religious significance was attached to it but lots of food, drink and presents. My aunts used to gossip about all the foreigners who celebrated Christmas failing to understand it just wasn’t done in the States.

    When Christmas started being celebrated in my family, the aunts would bemoan the insult to the ancestors and the “Popification” of the Reformation.

  11. Nal wrote:

    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.

    See, there is a war on Christmas.

  12. Darren Smith
    1, November 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm
    For me If I could I would prefer celebrating Christmas in Europe
    No argument from me atall!

    I would love to spend Christmas in France…Germany…or Norway w/the Nisse…damn I miss snow……

  13. Christmas in Europe is great. Just left Brugges. It was small but magical.

    As to the current war on Chritmas and Christians generally in the US it is bunk and the people who scream about it know so but the want to rev their shrinking congregations up about something to keep them coming back. As a result, we have priests telling parishioners that you cannot vote for a candidate that supports a woman’s right to an abortion or birth control and that Obama is taking away their Constitutinal right of free exercise by giving people health care. The real war on Christ is coming from the pulpit. The do not appreciate his teachings. They have been tainted by their desire for power and money. Christ and Christmas are just tools.

    By the way thanks for the history of X. It will be very helpful the next time one of mt friend loses their mind when they see XMAS.

    Merry Xmas to all!

  14. Thank you commenter Frankly for the explanation above of the derivation of the “Xmas” word. I had thought all these years that it was some invention of Macy’s to cram the word into a smaller advertisement. I knew nothing about the Xians and really to this day know nuthin about birthin babies so the way in which Christ was conceived without sex and without fuel injection is beyond me. But those who oppose Christmas would do well to think about their stock portfolios before they do themselves some harm by mouthing off about the true meaning of the event, or the Day, or the time of year.

  15. A friend of my sons was working in a retail shop several years back and at Christmas time, a woman came into the shop, looked around, did not choose anything, and just before leaving, turned and said to him, “Merry Christmas.” He answered, “Merry Christmas to you too,” and she then beamed, wrote something down on a clipboard and told him cheerfully that his business had been added to the list of stores that her church was telling people to frequent for their holiday shopping. She informed him confidentially that those who responded to the greeting with “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or a similar neutral greeting were “denying the Lord” and would be stricken from the list and boycotted by the groups that organized the research shoppers’ tours. The store clerk, surprised, said nothing. He is Jewish. His boss, who is not Jewish, was within hearing range. He emerged from the back of the shop and stopped the woman who was about to leave. “Hey you got my name on that list of stores?” he asked. “We certainly do!” came the answer. “Well get my name the F**K OFF YOUR GO**AMN LIST RIGHT NOW,” he boomed, “Because I don’t want your stupid bigots in my shop this season or ever and tell them I said so!”

    My son’s friend turned to him after she left and said, “Boss, you ruined Christmas!”

  16. Malisha,

    What jewish channel was that show on? Too good to be true.

    In respect to Xmas, I thought that all had seen the film portraying early Christians, when meeting in Rome and being forbidden, would make the sign of a fish (pisces) in the sand with their staffs. And if understood the replier would strike off the head of the fish, leaving the X left.

    However Ratty’s Macy story has perhaps more merit, but not cinemamaticly.

  17. Sounds like a contradiction in terms.
    “Decent German restaurant.”

    Now if you’d said “Decent Swedish restaurant”, I would have said that it was an impossibility.

    However I could say that we have a decent imitation of a Hungarian restaurant.

  18. junctionshamus:

    Wenn Sie das Christkind nach Basel zu bringen, es wäre komplett. Das Mädchen auf dem Bild ist wie ein schöner Engel.

  19. Malisha:

    Wow, that boss, what a poor businessman. Free advertising and a seal of approval and he instead lost control and guaranteed never getting that congregation again, not to mention a bad reputation among all their friends, relatives and neighbors.

    If a customer is a good customer, that is buys stuff and causes no drama or damage, I wouldn’t care who or what they were. They could be “fascist anarchists” as Ferris Buehler would say and they would still help pay the bills.

  20. bettykath
    1, November 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm
    Woosty, Today is the first snow day. You’re quite welcome to it. Please take it. Please…..
    alrighty! get out tha waaaaay!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. I don’t mind snow as long as there isn’t ten feet of it. I kind of miss the prettiness of it. Having a nice cup of coffee or a warm brandy and looking out over unblemished snow under moonlight is a meditative treat. Ice, on the other hand, just sucks.

  22. We in the states tend to think we know history when we really only know an outline of it. Both the article and comments made here (with the exception of Elaine) make the same mistake.

    Pilgrims and Puritans were two different groups. The Puritans retained membership in the Church of England trying to purify it of “popery” from within. The Puritans founded Massachusetts Bay Colony after the coming of the Pilgrims.

    The Pilgrims were separatists from the C of E and it is they who came in the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony. The Puritans wore those tall black hats, but the Pilgrims wore a kind of floppy hat whose brim could be turned up or down. Some of the people on the Mayflower and on the Fortune were not Pilgrims. In order to pacify them the Mayflower Compact was drawn up and signed.

    Of course, the mythology is much more powerful than the truth.

  23. Jan Briggs:

    Pilgrims and Puritans were two different groups.

    Both groups followed the Reformed Doctrine of John Calvin which includes, among other dogma, Calvin’s dislike of holidays.

  24. CaptRatty:

    “Now, to my important question to fellow bloggers. Was not Christ really born in July and did not the Church move his BD up into the pagan holiday season to co-opt the revelers?”
    There’s no way to tell what year, much less what month, this Jesus person was born. There’s no historical record of his existence, beyond religious texts. Saying that is an invitation to a fight.

    Yes, his birthday is celebrated close to the Winter Solstice, which was a pagan holiday. It was co-opted.

  25. junctionshamus,

    “… kartoffelsalat, rouladen, späzle, sauerbraten, wursts, kuchen!”

    now I’M hungry. It’s been a long time but I can still read a menu!

  26. Jan Briggs is correct, basically, regarding the Pilgrims and the Puritans. The article Nal linked @ 10:26p is also correct.

    The biggest difference was the view on ecclesiastical hierarchy, on the difference between a civil rite and a religious one, and on the theory of predestination.

    If one understands Robert Browne’s influence (note I did not say leadership) then one can grasp the difference.

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. 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

  30. From Plimoth Plantation:

    Faith of the Pilgrims

    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.”

  31. 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! 😛

  32. 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.

  33. “…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?

  34. 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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