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Christmas does not need defending

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Every year about now you can just about bet the farm that someone will launch a tirade against Christmas commercialism, the departure of piety, the hypocrisy of business. We are easily distracted by catchy terms, like “The reason for the season,” and we get all offended that Jesus is not honored as he should be.

For the sake of the business and entertainment communities, I’m grateful that so many people are spending so much money. Capitalism is good. I’m not grateful enough to join in the fray and spend more – most of our spending goes to the U.S. Postal Service anyhow, where one can easily double the price of the gift on the postage alone. At least when shipping abroad.

I’ve floated this plan once before, and I haven’t noticed anyone floating it back. Or bombing it into submission. It’s one possibility among many: Letting Christmas Day be the startup time, celebrate for 12 days, no work, no school, no newspapers, maybe even no mail. On the twelfth day of Christmas, say your thanks to God and each other, and be back on the job or classroom bright and early next day.

But we’re supposed to be celebrating Jesus’ birth, you remind me. Sure. Why not? No reason that the season has to be rearranged apart from the Christian holiday. Since the date is not certain, there’s no imperative as to which exact date we use. A gift a day would be lovely, but the gift of airfare to Aunt Phyllis to bring her home or to visit her would be lovely too, certainly surpassing the cost of the body powder you grabbed at the drugstore.

Enough. You get my drift, and if I’m not careful, someone will be standing on the village wall ready to stone me for replacing the Christian celebration with that of the merchants. I’m just sayin’ Little Lord Jesus will not be defeated by holiday excesses. You may, but not the Lord of all.

Consider this: For those Puritans that we refer to as “the founding fathers,” Christmas did not exist, claims Robert Ostermann, writing for The Great American Christmas Almanac in 1988.

Those quintessential Christian founders hated Christmas observations as abominations, human inventions without basis in Holy Scripture. Like Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were determined to expunge joy from human life.

Ostermann continues, “There was no rest or festivity for them, not even to celebrate their safe arrival in the New World; Christmas Day was just business as usual. This attitude was reflected in a reconstructed version of the original log of Thomas Jones, master of the Mayflower, dated December 25, 1620:

“At anchor in Plymouth harbor, but not observed by these colonists, they being opposed to all saints’ days, etc….. A large party went ashore this morning to fell timber and begin building. They began to erect the first house about twenty feet square for their common use, to receive them and their goods.”

These colonists later made sure there would be no Christmas joy by declaring it illegal to celebrate the holiday. In 1659, the Puritans of the American colonies – driven by dogmatic rectitude – passed this law:

“Whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting, or in any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for such offense five shillings as a fine to the country.”

But even while the Puritans dominated New England, their influence was steadily diluted by immigrants with different religious orientation who believed wholeheartedly in Christmas and observed it according to their denominational and ethnic traditions.

In New York, the Dutch followed the rule of “live and let live,” celebrating Christmas with feasting and merriment and looking with good humor – and maybe some amazement – on their dour neighbors to the north.

“But it was primarily the Southern colonists who turned their faces resolutely against the harsh anti-Christian spirit of doctrinaire New England, leavening it with their still continuing trepidations of grace and hospitality.”

A lot of that remains to this day, in the South, for which we should all wax grateful. Americans are flexible, and will pick and choose until they figure out what’s going on.

In 1825 Joel Poinsett, the first-appointed U.S. diplomat to Mexico was a sort of amateur botanist and was intrigued by the leggy red wildflowers. He sent home cuttings, and shared them with friends.

(A little riddle: What color are poinsettia flowers?)

About a century after Poinsett inadvertently introduced his namesake, Paul Ecke of California began to cultivate the flower. Mexicans called them flame flowers, and decorated Holy Night nativity processions with them. Ecke began to interbreed and experiment with the gaudy foliage most of us take home for the holidays.

The Ecke family supplies more than 5,000 growers around the world with cuttings that produce millions of holiday plants – another American success story that has become a Christmas legend.

What color are poinsettia flowers? Green and yellow, very small, nearly hidden in the bright red, pink, or white bracts that take our eye.

May all the stories of Christmas help make yours a very merry one.

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