In merry England in 1644, the happy season of Christmas was outlawed by Christians. Puritans rose to Parliament, and the jolly holiday was nearly made into a day of mourning. Plum puddings, as well as fruitcakes, were considered diabolic. All feasting became fasting.
The smallest holly wreath or tinsel decoration suggested, or rather manifested, civil disobedience. As was then the custom, priests were on the run; markets were forced to remain open (owing to the date having been declared a “working day”); defiant housewives discovered baking mince-pies in secret were pitilessly locked up; and all rebellious carollers and wassailers were heavily fined or (simply) relegated to prisons. The Puritan reason was that Christmas had become, more or less, something like a modern-day Mardi Gras. (You, kind reader, might dare imagine what sort of Mardi Gras I mean.) It was considered “pagan,” and therefore, if not quite damnable, at least punishable. Pre-converted Mr. Scrooge himself could not have put a better stop to Christmas Day! In fact, at a far more astonishing rate did the Christian Puritans succeed in eliminating the holiday than would, in our dear twentieth century even, various totalitarian regimes. Oh, and fie; we modern-day Christians whine when our fellow atheists bewail the plastic nativity scene outside the courthouse on Nth Street! Just imagine if a Cromwell were to ascend on high!
Christmas, it seems, has a tendency to be treated as Something Else besides a holy day. This is an unfortunate thing and a fact. Immediately, depending on our outlook, there is presented to us two ways to treat this: one can go the Pagan way or the Puritan. But I do not think it well to reject one extreme — i.e. the protestation of manger scenes, candy canes, innocent carols, etc. — only to adopt the other: viz., the boycotting of Christmas altogether. Let’s instead choose to walk the middle course, which is mercifully wide, and which would, I hope, require of us Christians especially to put to use a little imagination. I say “imagination,” but really I mean a kind of sympathy, because there are many persons who walk this same road of ours, but who see things quite differently. We must permit ourselves to learn, if not to see things their way, at least to understand how they see it, and to see, and to cherish, the good they do see. That is how we might begin to urge each other to understand the good we singly see. There may be someone with a Puritanish strain, grumbling about carols sung outside of liturgy, during Advent — thank him for his concern, and kindly assure him that the world is not quite afire; or not yet. This one may be followed by someone who has a Paganish pep to his step, whatever that might look like; and do gently underline for him the word Christmas, but make sure, with a smile, to double-underline the word Christ. For, my friend, it takes far more devotion and festivity to put the Christ Child exactly at the heart of His nativity.