A recent newspaper editorial about the "war on Christmas" credited the New England Puritans as the original Yuletide haters: the first to frown at too much December celebrating.
I have to admit, an image flashed through my mind of dour men in pointed hats batting ornaments off Christmas trees, pouring eggnog into gutters, swatting the Elf off the shelf, smirking with satisfaction at the sight of the poor little guy lying in a heap in the corner.
Historically speaking, of course, they would not have had the chance. All of the froofraw and trappings we associate with Christmas today, from the fir tree in the living room to Santa Claus and his eight tiny reindeer, ground into gear centuries after the Puritans arrived in New England. The Christmas traditions we have come to treasure are really not that old. They are, in fact, mostly an artifact of our nineteenth-century Victorian ancestors, famous for their love of sentimental occasions and decorative clutter.
Just to be clear, though, the Puritans did not like Christmas. They did not observe any feast days, saints' days, or events on the calendar that weren't specifically justified by the word of scripture. Not only that, all that Elizabethan-era revelry and partying disturbed those who preferred to observe Christ's birth in prayer and spiritual reflection.
As our national gift-giving frenzy is drawing to its merciful close, I have to admit I feel some sympathy.
The Puritans definitely deserve better press than they usually receive, and thank goodness the tide seems to be turning. Our mobile app,
"Boston Puritans Test Democracy"
, is just one of a wonderful spate of articles, public lectures, and even C-SPAN programs debunking the persistent mythologies about the Puritans as witch-hunting killjoys. Lori Stokes, a public historian who's been a central part of our New England's Hidden Histories program -- she is a document-transcribing superhero -- published an article on
"Five Myths about the Puritans"
in the Washington Post and, under the auspices of the Partnership of Historic Bostons, gave a
lecture on the same topic that aired on C-SPAN
. Also with the Partnership, our own Frank Bremer, premier historian of Puritanism and board member of the CLA
gave a public lecture
here in Boston on "the Puritans and sex" and it's all but gone viral.
From all of us at the Congregational Library & Archives, we wish you the happiest of holidays and a joyous new year!