Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 48 - X for Xmas

I know that I'm cheating for X here and that Xmas isn't even really a word, but it's almost December and I wanted to write about Quakers and Christmas as well as my own rather ambivalent attitude to the festive season.

Quakers' rejection of Christmas celebrations has always been part of their testimony regarding times and seasons, which states that all days are equally holy and that particular times for celebration should not be seen as 'special'. In this they were not alone but part of the particular time and place from which they sprang. When Quakerism first emerged in the 1650s in England Parliament itself had banned the celebration of Christmas as 'a popish festival with no biblical justification' and this very unpopular law remained in force from 1647 to 1659. In America the Puritans of New England carried on where the British Puritans left off and outlawed the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

Friends continued to ignore Christmas, opening their shops and continuing their schooling throughout, until well into the 19th century. Over time however the testimony regarding times and seasons weakened.  The problem with making no difference between days is that the element of celebration, which might equally happen every day, in practice tends to be lost and we long for excuses to celebrate with our families and communities. In the UK too the nature of the Religious Society of Friends has changed radically with most members now coming in by convincement as adults rather than being brought up in Quaker families so that we have learned different Christmas traditions and wish to continue at least some of them. Many Quaker meetings now organise some sort of programmed meeting involving all ages in carols, seasonal readings and plays. Some also have a meeting for worship on the day that the world calls Christmas.

There are elements of Christmas celebration which I was brought up with and which I would miss if Friends went right back to their puritan roots. I enjoy the celebration with family, sharing food and giving and receiving cards and gifts. I love decorating the house with a tree and lights and looking at the decorations in the places around me. These things bring back my childhood excitement and wonder and they mean Christmas to me. I do not have to spend a lot of money or to take part in the rampant materialism which I would label Xmas, but I refuse to feel guilty about what I do.  Oh yes and I also count down the days with an advent calendar - very unquakerly!

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