New Article Available on Christmas Practices:

The Reason for the Season

The last of the Thanksgiving dinner left-overs are sent out to the trash, and the background music at stores and malls switches to the sounds of the season. The advertisements hit us with full force, and even our news programs remind us of how many shopping days there are until Christmas. And the yearly lament rises up from Christian circles, "Whatever happened to the old-fashioned Christmas? Itís all become so crass and worldly." So out come the bumper stickers and T-shirts with slogans like:

 

Letís put Christ back in Christmas

 

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

 

Most Christians are convinced that Christmas has been corrupted in recent times by all the "worldly" people in our American society. They yearn for what they feel must have been the "good old days"—perhaps in the time of the "Waltons," or at least farther back, in the days of "Little House on the Prairie." The holiday would have been "holy." Families would gather around the hearth to hear Dad read the Christmas story. "Worldly" amusements and revelry would have no place in that simpler time. It would just be hymn-sings around the popcorn bedecked fir tree.

The article we are offering, The Reason for the Season checks this nostalgic picture against reality.

Walking back through historical records from the present to the time of Christ, it becomes quickly obvious that the "good old days" were not so good after all! We give a few examples here:

Christmas in the 1800ís

A common Christmas practice during the 1800ís were "mumming plays". These have nothing to do with mothers or mummies, but were wild dress-up occasions, including masks so people would not know who is who. Here is a sample speech by the character OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS in a typical "mumming play" of the 1800ís:

Here comes I, Father Christmas, welcome, or welcome not,

I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot.

Although it is Old Father Christmas, he has but a short time to stay, I am come to show you pleasure, and pass the time away.

I have been far, I have been near,

And now, I am come to drink a pot of your Christmas beer;

And, if it is your best, I hope in heaven your soul will rest.

If it is a pot of your small,

We cannot show you no Christmas at all.

[From A Righte Merrie Christmas by John Ashton]

The English here is a little hard to understand. The last line is an unnecessary double-negative, a modern day equivalent might be "we ainít gonnaí give you no Christmas." The main point of this section is that Father Christmas—the holiday personified, offers a religious blessing based on whether he gets good beer or not. The whole emphasis was on "getting" and partying, not on any Bible teaching or story of Jesus.

Christmas in the 1600ís

The death of infant Princess Mary in September 1607 did not interfere with James I keeping Christmas right royally in that year. There were masques and theatricals—nay, the king wanted a play on Christmas night—and card-playing went on for high sums, the queen losing [the sum of] 300 pounds on the eve of Twelfth night. [Ashton]

Gambling was a fairly common practice at Christmas time during these years. In some places, Christmas was the only time when gambling was legal. Was James I an exceptionally evil king? He certainly had his difficulties, but he seems little worse than most of the rest of the kings. In fact, he was the king that commissioned the translation of the King James Bible!

Christmas in the 700ís

There exists a letter from the year 742, in which St. Boniface, the "Apostle to the Germans," complains to Pope Zacharias that his labors to convert the heathen Franks and Alemans—Germanic tribes—were being handicapped by the escapades of the Christian Romans back home. The Franks and the Alemans were on the threshold of becoming Christians, but their conversion was retarded by their enjoyment of lurid carnivals. When Boniface tried to turn them away from such customs, they argued that they had seen them celebrated under the very shadow of St. Peterís at Rome [the cathedral that was the central headquarters of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church]. Embarrassed and sorry, Pope Zacharias replied to Boniface, admitting that the people of the city of Rome misbehaved very badly at Christmas time. There was very little he could do about it; however, the following year he succeeded in inducing the Holy Synod of Rome to forbid the Romans, under penalty of law, from setting such bad examples.

Alas for human frailty! The ban had to be repeated over and over, for centuries. [From 4000 YEARS OF CHRISTMAS by Earl Count]

You Need to Know

The Reason for the Season contains much more information on Christmas customs and goes into their origins. It concludes with Scriptures showing the Eternalís opinion of borrowing otherís religious practices to worship Him. If you participate in Christmas customs or have friends who do, you need to understand this holiday that is such a dominant force for one month every year. (Thatís 8% of everyoneís life!)

Please write to Servantsí News at the address nearest you on page 2, or in the USA simply call 517-543-5544 any time and ask for The Reason for the Season.

—Pam Dewey & Norman S. Edwards


Servants News November 1997 index