When I was a young child in Scotland, Christmas was not celebrated. My mother, by then a lone parent, went to her work in a textile factory for her usual twelve hour shift. Remembering back, I looked it up to see if my memory was correct. Yes, it was. Christmas did not become a public holiday until 1958.
“A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland made the celebration of “Yule vacations” illegal. England, under Oliver Cromwell, also imposed a ban on Christmas at around the same time. Despite the repealing of the Act in 1686, the suppression of Christmas in Scotland effectively lasted for 400 years, with December 25 only becoming a public holiday in 1958.”
Several sites record this, including https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/christmas-and-new-year-traditions-in-scotland-1-3226062
Christmas in the new American colony
An early law book of the Massachusetts Bay Colony reads as follows:
“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence 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 such accountants as aforesaid, every person so offending shall pay of every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”
They also felt that due to the holiday’s loose pagan origins, celebrating it would constitute idolatry. A common sentiment among the leaders of the time was that such feast days detracted from their core beliefs.
A look at the history of Christmas
The Bible records the birth of Christ but never any annual celebration not even after His death as Saviour.
So, looking to history – when was the first recorded celebration of Christmas?
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.
Ah, Emperor Constantine.
Was he indeed the ‘first Christian Roman Emperor? Or was he merely trying to unite his vast empire with its many religious beliefs?
Emperor Constantine merged the cult of Mithra with that of Christianity, a ‘cult’ that was developing rapidly.
He declared himself a Christian but at the same time maintained his ties to the Mithra cult. He retained the title “Pontifus Maximus” the high priest. On his coins were inscribed: “Sol Invicto comiti” which means, commited to the invincible sun.
Christmas in the 19th Century
With the appearance of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church, a revival in the traditional rituals and religious observances associated with Christmastide occurred. This ushered in “the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival” as well as “special charities for the poor” in addition to “special services and musical events”.
Historian Ronald Hutton believes that the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday, spearheaded by Charles Dickens, who “linked worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation”.
Dickens was not the first author to celebrate Christmastide in literature, but it was he who superimposed his humanitarian vision of the holiday upon the public, an idea that has been termed as Dickens’ “Carol Philosophy.”
Modern celebrations of Christmas include more commercial activity in comparison with those of the past.
Christmas in the U.S.
Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to refocus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one centered on the happiness of children. He notes that there was a deliberate effort to prevent children from becoming greedy in response.
Christmas was not proclaimed a holiday by the United States Congress until 1870.
There is a lot more I could write but this post is long enough…
Christmas is an invention of men, not a Biblical fact.
I suppose that is justification for the rampant commercialism of Christmas today. In saying this I also have to say there are many people who celebrate the 25th December as the birth of Christ.
I do not, but respect your right to keep this date as a celebration. Allow me the same right… to NOT celebrate what I see as a pagan holiday.
Whatever you do, be safe. Statistics for this time of year are depressing… suicides, accidents, and family fights, to name but a few.
God bless you and keep you safe,
P.S. The header image is a mithraeum (a temple-cave dedicated to Mithras) found in the German city of Saarbrücken.