Questionable Motives

December 13, 2009

What is the christian ‘tradition’ of Christmas?

From the Hitch:

I never cease to be amazed by how little the Bible-believing Protestants, who constitute most of the soldiery in the Christmas wars, know about their own tradition. Under the rule of the Puritan Revolution in the England of Oliver Cromwell (ancestor in many ways of the Pilgrim Fathers) the celebration of Christmas was banned outright. This was for three reasons: the December fiesta was actually the honoring of Paganism in disguise, and a descendant of the old rites of the Winter Solstice. Then, it was also a manifestation of Popery and superstition (the “Christ-Mass”). Finally, it was an excuse for the riff-raff to get drunk and over-indulge in general. Only the last part seems to have truly survived into our present day.

In “A Great and Godly Adventure,” Godfrey Hodgson’s excellent history of the Plymouth colony (which gave us the tradition of Thanksgiving) he records the way in which William Bradford and the others continued to work on Christmas Day, the honoring of which they regarded with scorn as “a remnant of Catholic superstition”. Until the 1950s, in Scotland – one of the most Protestant areas of all Europe – Christmas was not observed officially at all.

It isn’t especially hard to see why. None of the four gospels gives any notion of what time of year (let alone in what year) the supposed Nativity occurred. Only two gospels mention the virginity of Mary and only one has any mention of a “manger”. Nowhere is there any record of a “stable”. Wise men and shepherds are likewise very unevenly distributed throughout the discrepant accounts. So that the placement of a creche surrounded by a motley crew of humans and animals has no more Scriptural warrant than does “The Life of Brian.”

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