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Chapter 1: The Historical Observance of Church Holidays

The Early Church (100-500)

 The post-apostolic church viewed annual holidays as characteristic of pagan, non-Christian religions.  Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century A.D. in De Idololatria: “For to the heathens each festive day occurs but once annually: [but] you have a festive day every eighth day [i.e., the Lord’s day].”[1] 

Christmas, in particular, was celebrated neither by the apostolic church nor during the first few centuries of New Testament church history.  During the first three centuries of church history, increasing significance seems to have been given to the period from Passover to Pentecost; yet, evidence is lacking to prove any celebration regarding the Savior's birth.  As late as A.D. 245, Origen gives a list of fasts and festivals that were observed in his time, and no mention is made of Christmas.[2]  In fact, Origen repudiated the idea of keeping the birthday of Christ, “as if he were a king Pharaoh”[3].

The word Christmas comes from Cristes maesse, an Old English phrase that means “Mass of Christ.”  Christian celebration of Christmas appears to have begun in the fourth century.  Various dates were set for the “holy day” including January, March, April, and May.  To this day the Greek Orthodox Church observes January 6th rather than December 25th.[4]  The first mention of December 25th as the birth date of Jesus occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar.  The first recorded celebration of Christmas was on December 25, 345 in Rome under Pope Liberius.[5]  In A.D. 350, December 25 was declared the official date for celebrating Christmas in the Roman Church by Pope Julius I.  Ruth Reichmann, a German historian, explains the reason why the church chose this particular day of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth: 

      When the fathers of the church decided to settle upon a date to celebrate the event, they wisely chose the day of the winter solstice, since it coincided with some rival religions’ celebrations and the rebirth of the sun, symbolized by bon-fires and yule logs.  [Since] December 25 was a festival long before the conversion of the Germanic peoples to Christianity, it seemed fitting that the time of their winter festival would also be the time to celebrate the birth of Christ.[6]

During the 5th century, Christmas became an official Roman Catholic holy day, and in A.D. 534, Christmas was recognized as an official holy day by the Roman state.[7]

The corruptions of true worship that arose during the early centuries of the Christian Church laid the foundation for the more pervasive and perverse distortions of true worship that would arise during the Middle Ages.   


The Medieval Church
(500-1517)

Joseph Pipa notes some of the Medieval Church’s “reforms” with respect to the observance of holy days:

     In his decretals, Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) claimed that, although Lord’s day observance was derived from both the Old and New Testaments, the Pope had the authority to appoint Sunday as well as other holy days. . . .

     The Mediaeval church combined a strange mixture of legalistic, superstitious practices with flagrant abuses of the day.  Holy days, including Sunday, became holidays.  James Dennison says of the Mediaeval Church in England:  ‘The populace was so enamoured of Sunday sports that the church soon capitulated to the secular spirit and the churchyard became the local fairground. . . .’  Because the Church reserved to itself the authority to select the day, Dennison points out: ‘The end result of the Roman doctrine was that the New Testament Sabbath had no authority from God whatever; the Lord’s day was grounded in the authority of the church hierarchy.’[8]

Not only was the Gospel eclipsed during the Middle Ages, but also the observance of Biblical holy days was corrupted beyond recognition.  The liturgical calendar that arose during the medieval church included not only the feast days commemorating the acts of redemption but also feast days for thousands of church saints. 

First called “the Feast of the Nativity,” Christmas observance spread to Egypt by A.D. 432 and to England by the end of the 6th century.  By the end of the 8th century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. 

Sometime during the Middle Ages, Christmas became a great popular festival in Western Europe.  “On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras.  Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned ‘lord of misrule’ and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects.  The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink.  If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief.”[9]  

Christmas became the “high holy day” of the Roman Catholic Church.  By A.D. 1100, Christmas had become “the most important religious festival in Europe. . . . The popularity of Christmas grew until the Reformation . . .”[10] 

Historian Melissa Snell highlights some of the Christmas customs that arose during the Middle Ages:

     The tree was an important symbol to every Pagan culture.  The oak in particular was venerated by the Druids.  Evergreens, which in ancient Rome were thought to have special powers and were used for decoration, symbolized the promised return of life in the spring and came to symbolize eternal life for Christians.  The Vikings hung fir and ash trees with war trophies for good luck. 

     In the middle ages, the Church would decorate trees with apples on Christmas Eve, which they called “Adam and Eve Day.”  However, the trees remained outdoors.  In sixteenth-century Germany, it was the custom for a fir tree decorated with paper flowers to be carried through the streets on Christmas Eve to the town square, where, after a great feast and celebration that included dancing around the tree, it would be ceremonially burned. 

     Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were all important plants to the Druids.  It was believed that good spirits lived in the branches of holly.  Christians believed that the berries had been white before they were turned red by Christ’s blood when He was made to wear the crown of thorns.  Ivy was associated with the Roman god Bacchus and was not allowed by the Church as a decoration until later in the middle ages, when a superstition that it could help recognize witches and protect against plague arose.[11]

Snell goes on to note that “Christmas may owe its popularity in medieval times to liturgical dramas and mysteries presented in the church.  The most popular subject for such dramas and tropes was the Holy Family, particularly the Nativity.”[12]  Tropes were “chants in dialogue form introduced at certain moments in the liturgy for the Christmas and Epiphany masses to make them livelier and more understandable for the faithful.”[13]  These tropes were performed in Latin, utilizing church vestments and church music.[14] 

Tropes were gradually transformed into liturgical dramas, which were “inspired by Bible stories about the adoration of the shepherds or the procession of the Wise Men.”[15]  These liturgical dramas began to take up significant sections of the mass.  As the presentations grew in scale, they took on “such spectacular and sacrilegious development in their depiction of biblical scenes that the Church gradually eliminated them little by little from the liturgy” and banned them from churches.  By 1548 they were banned in Paris, and they were eventually forbidden throughout France in 1677.[16] 

Mystery plays, which were performed in English by secular performers in secular dress and accented by folk music and dance, also arose during the Middle Ages.  Kathleen Campbell notes that the idea of forming the mystery plays into cycles may have developed along with the connection of the performances to the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi:

      This feast [of Corpus Christi] was first ordered by Pope Urban in 1264, but did not become a major time of celebration until the early fourteenth century.  It occurred on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday (in the late spring or early summer, between May 23 and June 24), and celebrated the redemptive power of Christ through the miracle of the Host.  The feast was celebrated by a procession of religious orders who visited churches and holy sites.  The long days would have allowed for the elaboration of the celebration.  Not dedicated to a specific event or saint, the feast provided great latitude for celebration and gradually became the focus for the presentation of religious plays gathered together into expansive cycles which portrayed the history of the world from creation to the last judgment. . . . The betrayal, death, and resurrection of Christ form the central events of the cycle, and most of the other plays can be seen to either foreshadow the Passion of Christ or reveal its consequences.[17]

The four major English mystery cycles come from York, Chester, Wakefield, and an unknown location in the East Midlands.  These plays were performed from about A.D. 1375 to 1540.  Campbell notes that these mystery plays would disappear after the Protestant Reformation:

     Productions of the mystery cycles died out in the mid-sixteenth century.  Because of their association with popery, the playing of the mysteries was discouraged in England after the divorce of Henry VIII. . . . The Reformation also contributed to the abandonment of the cycles.  Interestingly, the Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent, also called for an end to productions of religious plays, which they considered secular and anti-clerical.[18] 

The Protestant Reformation would radically change the observance of such holy days . . . for a time. 

 

The Protestant Reformation (1517-1700)


The Protestant Reformation was preeminently a reformation of worship.  The Reformers staunchly opposed the celebration of religious holidays other than the Lord’s day: 

      During the early days of the Reformation some Reformed localities observed only Sunday.  All special days sanctioned and revered by Rome were set aside.  Zwingli and Calvin both encouraged the rejection of all ecclesiastical festive days.  In Geneva all special days were discontinued as soon as the Reformation took a firm hold in that city.  Already before the arrival of Calvin in Geneva this had been accomplished under the leadership of Farel and Viret.  But Calvin agreed heartily.  And Knox, the Reformer of Scotland, shared these same convictions, he being a disciple of Calvin in Geneva.  Consequently the Scottish Churches also banned the Roman sacred days.[19]

Increase Mather, a Nonconformist minister in New England, wrote regarding the Reformed view on church holidays: 

     The Old Waldenses witnessed against the observing of any holidays, besides that which God in his Word hath instituted.  Calvin, Luther, Danaeus, Bucer, Farel, Viret, and other great Reformers, have wished that the observation of all holidays, except the Lord’s Day, were abolished.  A Popish writer complains that the Puritans in England were of the same mind.  So was John Huss and Jerome of Prague long ago.  And the Belgic Churches in their Synod, Anno 1578. . . .[20]

Similarly, K. DeGier, minister in the Netherlands Reformed Church, the Hague, and teacher at the Theological School at Rotterdam, wrote in his Explanation of the Church Order of Dordt (1968) that “the Reformers such as Calvin, Farel, Viret, Bucer and John Knox were opposed to observing the holy days.”[21]  He explains their motives for this position as threefold:  1) they [the holy days] were not divine but human institutions; 2) they brushed aside the importance of Sunday; and 3) they gave occasion to licentious and heathen festivities.

The German Reformer Martin Luther did not adopt the regulative principle of worship of Calvin and Knox.  Believing that anything not explicitly prohibited in Scripture was permissible in worship, Luther retained a good deal of the doctrine and worship practices of the Roman Catholic church.  Nevertheless, on pragmatic grounds, Luther argued against retaining various religious holidays.  In his Address to the German Nobility (1520), Luther declared:

      All festivals should be abolished, and Sunday alone retained
. . . .  Here is the reason: since the feast days are abused by drinking, gambling, loafing, and all manner of sin, we anger God more on holy days than we do on other days.  Things are so topsy-turvy that holy days are not holy, but working days are.  Nor is any service rendered God and his saints by so many saints’ days.[22]

The Reformer Martin Bucer echoes Luther’s sentiments: 

      I would to God that every holy day whatsoever besides the Lord's day were abolished.
  That zeal which brought them first in, was without all warrant of the Word, and merely followed corrupt reason, forsooth to drive out the holy days of the pagans, as one nail drives out another.  Those holy days have been so tainted with superstitions that I wonder we tremble not at their very names.[23]

John Calvin
, “the theologian,” possessed an equally strong distaste for the observance of religious holidays other than the Lord’s day.  In Calvin’s Geneva, those celebrating Christmas faced fines or imprisonment.[24]  On Sunday, November 16, 1550, an edict was issued in Geneva concerning the observance of religious holidays.  It was a decree “respecting the abrogation of all the festivals, with the exception of Sundays, which God had ordained.”[25]


In Scotland,
John Knox waged the greatest assault against the religious holidays of the Church.  In response to the Second Helvetic Confession, John Knox, along with other representatives of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, cosigned a letter “to the Very Eminent Servant of Christ, Master Theodore Beza, the Most Learned and Vigilant Pastor of the Genevan Church” (1566).  In this letter, they express their position regarding the observance of religious holidays: 

      This one thing, however, we can scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession [Second Helvetic] concerning the “festival of our Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Ghost upon his disciples,” that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles have prescribed.[26] 
 

Scotland


Kevin Reed has remarked that “first and foremost, the Scottish Reformation was characterized by a purification of worship.  Knox continually sought to cleanse the church and the nation from the corruptions of false religion.”[27]  John Knox’s passion was to reform the nature of worship in the Scottish church.  Most of these reforms he had earlier formulated while in Geneva pastoring an English congregation. 

From the beginning of the Reformation, the Kirk of Scotland condemned the observation of all holy days, except for the Lord’s Day.[28]  John Knox and his colleagues included the following statement in the first chapter of their First Book of Discipline (1560):

     We affirm that “all Scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove, and to exhort.”  In which books of Old and New Testaments we affirm that all things necessary for the instruction of the Kirk [Church], and to make the man of God perfect, are contained and sufficiently expressed.

      By the contrary Doctrine, we understand whatsoever men, by Laws, Councils, or Constitutions have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandment of God's word: such as be vows of chastity, foreswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparels, to the superstitious observation of fasting days, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead; and keeping of holy days of certain Saints commanded by men, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the Feasts (as they term them) of Apostles, Martyrs, Virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our Lady.  Which things, because in God's Scriptures they neither have commandment nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realm; affirming further, that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abominations ought not to escape the punishment of the Civil Magistrate.[29]

In 1562, Knox put an end to Christmas observance in Scotland.  In 1564, Knox’s reforms were published in his new Book of Common Order.  One biography of John Knox summarizes the changes that took place in the Scottish Church:

      Following the teachings and practices of Calvin’s Geneva (and Zwingli before him), Knox took the stand that if there could be found no support in scripture for a particular practice of the church, then it was to be done away with.  Thus among other things he did away with all of the old feast days, leaving only Sunday as a holy day.[30]

At the Assembly of Perth, in 1617, King James I of England sought to impose various ceremonies designed to enhance the Episcopal cause. The liturgical impositions included the observance of Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide [Pentecost], and the Ascension.  Scottish ministers resisted King James’s action.[31]  Among the opponents of James was Scottish minister David Calderwood (1575-1651).  Calderwood wrote a critique of Perth Assembly, published in 1619, in which he attacked these innovations in worship that King James imposed on the Church of Scotland:

     The anniversary days prescribed by God “pertained to the ceremonial law; but so it is that the ceremonial law is abolished.  The anniversary days were distinguished from the moral sabbath;” only the ordinary (weekly) sabbath remains.  “The moral use of the ordinary sabbath was for the service of God in general both private and public.  The mystical use [of the anniversary days] was to be a memorial of things bypast, and a shadow of things to come.  The moral use endures, the mystical uses are vanished. . . . The Judaical days had once that honor, as to be appointed by God himself; but the anniversary days appointed by men have not the like honor. . . . If it had been the will of God that the several acts of Christ should have been celebrated with several solemnities, the Holy Ghost would have made known to us the day of his nativity, circumcision, presentation in the temple, baptism, transfiguration, and the like. . . . This opinion of Christ's nativity on the 25th day of December was bred at Rome.”[32]

In 1837, the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland reaffirmed its rejection of Christmas and other church holy days, writing, “[We] testify against the celebration of Christmas, or other festivals of the Papal or Episcopal church.”[33]

Ruth Wilson recounts the history of Christmas observance in Scotland in her article posted on a Glasgow tourism website: 

      For almost 400 years, from the 1580s to the 1950s, Christmas was banned in Scotland.
  The idolatry and Catholic excess of the festival was condemned by John Knox during the Reformation, and Christmas became a day like any other for Presbyterians throughout the country.  The ban was strictly enforced by the law, and transgressions were harshly punished . . .[34]

Whereas the English rapidly abandoned the teachings of the Westminster Assembly and the Puritans regarding Christmas, the Scottish remained faithful to the changes initiated by Knox during the Reformation: 

     For almost four centuries Scottish society rejected the ostentatious display and over-consumption which had become hallmarks of the Christmas festival in England and elsewhere.  Even though Christmas Day was a holiday in England, the Scots worked on.[35]

Yet, by the dawn of the 20th century, Christmas observance began firmly to take root in Scotland, as it had already taken root in the United States of America: 

     It wasn’t until the 1900s that Christmas began to infiltrate the country and, even then, it was a gradual process.  Christmas traditions were brought into the country by Anglicans following English customs, the advent of radio and spread of newspapers carrying news of celebrations in the rest of Britain, and World War II soldiers bringing home experiences of festivities in others parts of the world.  By the 1950s it was possible to buy tinsel and Christmas trees and fairy lights.  Christmas Day became an official public holiday in Scotland in 1958. . . .  Today, the festival is celebrated wholeheartedly by many Scots.[36] 

It is also interesting to note that New Year’s celebrations were banned under Knox.  Yet, these festivals returned to Scotland much faster than did Christmas.  Apparently, the Scottish were more comfortable celebrating a holiday of their pagan ancestors than celebrating a religious holiday that sought to merge elements of paganism with the Christian faith: 

    Perhaps because of the four-century ban on Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay, has always been a particularly high-spirited occasion in Scotland.  The roots of the word “Hogmanay” are variously believed to stem form the Gaelic oge maiden (“new morning”), the Anglo Saxon Haleg Monath (“Holy Month”), or the Norman French hoguinane, derived from the Old French anguillanneuf (“gift at New Year”).  The origins of the celebration date back to the pagan practice of sun and fire worship in the deep mid-winter, and the traditions associated with this pagan festival are still evident today.

    The winter festival went underground during the Reformation, but reemerged at the end of the 17th century.  Since then the customs have continued to evolve to the modern day.  Ceilidhs take place throughout the country; fire ceremonies, such as torchlit procession, play an important role; and, in the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, it has become a huge ticketed festival.[37]


England

In England, as in much of Europe, the rejection of ecclesiastical holidays abided for a rather short period of time.  However, The Westminster Assembly Directory for the Publick Worship of God would keep the Reformers’ vision alive for centuries to come.  For in the appendix of The Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1646), entitled “Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship,” the Westminster Assembly declared,

    There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.  Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.[38]

This version of the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Publick Worship of God was used in the United States during the 1700s.  In 1729 the Synod of Philadelphia commended it as “agreeable in substance to the word of God,” and in 1745 the Synod of New York affirmed it as “the general plan of worship and discipline.”[39]

During the Commonwealth period (1640-1660), when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, Puritans declared Christmas was “an extraeme forgetfulnesse of Christ, by giving liberty to carnall and sensual delights.”[40]  In 1644, the English Parliament passed an act forbidding the observance of Christmas, calling it a heathen holiday.[41]  The House of Commons sat on Christmas day and sheriffs were sent out to require merchants to open for business.[42]  In 1647, Parliament passed further legislation, abolishing Christmas and other holidays.  It declared,

     Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide [Pentecost], and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding.[43]

Ruth Wilson notes that the Scottish Presbyterians played a significant role in bringing about this ban of Christmas observance in England: 


     The Scots were so passionate about spreading their faith that Scottish Presbyterians, when called on for support by the Puritans of the English Parliament in 1644, did so on the understanding that their allies would in exchange impose the ban on Christmas and other ecclesiastical holidays.  For over a decade traditional English Christmas festivities were prohibited, with transgressions sternly punished. . . .  The English were deeply resentful of the prohibition and rebelled, with riots breaking out all over the country, and the law was eventually revoked in England in 1660.[44]


Upon the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II revived the Christmas feast.  While the Scots continued to adhere to the Puritan view, England gradually returned to its Christmas observance.[45]  The English were eager to return to their traditional festivities, which had characterized English life throughout the spiritual Dark Ages. 
 

The English Puritans

It is important to note that while the Church of England returned to the observance of ecclesiastical holidays, the Nonconformists or “Puritans” (composed of Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists) continued to strongly object to the observance of religious holy days.  The chief issue of controversy between the Church of England and the Nonconformists / Puritans was, in fact, worship.  False worship was a major issue that drove the Nonconformists to endure hardship and imprisonment and the Pilgrims to flee to the Netherlands and then to the New World. 

Schneider notes that the Puritan argument against Christmas and other religious holidays was three-fold: “(1.) No time of worship is sanctified, unless God has ordained it; (2.) unscriptural holidays are a threat to the proper observance of the Lord's day because these holidays tend to eclipse the sanctity which belongs only to the Lord's day, (3.) the observance of unscriptural holidays tends toward the superstition and innovation in worship which are characteristic of Roman Catholicism.”[46]

William Ames
, 17th century Nonconformist minister exiled to the Netherlands and professor of theology at Franeker, echoes the sentiments of the Westminster Assembly.  He says, “Opposed to the ordinance of the Lord's Day are all feast days ordained by men when they are considered holy days like the Lord's Day.”[47]

John Flavel
, Nonconformist minister in Dartmouth, England, wrote An Exposition of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (1688).  In response to the question: “Is there any other day holy besides this day [i.e., the Lord’s day]?,” Flavel states:

    No day but this is holy by institution of the Lord; yet days of humiliation and thanksgiving may be lawfully set apart by men on a call of providence; but popish holidays are not warrantable, nor to be observed; Gal. 4:10.  Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.[48]

Similarly, Thomas Vincent, Nonconformist minister in London, wrote An Explanation of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (1674), wherein he answers the question “May not the Popish holidays be observed?”:

     The Popish holidays ought not to be observed, because they are not appointed in the Word; and, by the same reason, no other holidays may be kept, whatsoever pretence there be of devotion towards God, when there is no precept or example for such practice in the Holy Scripture.[49]

During the 19th century, the famous Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon also held to this Reformed view of holy days.  On December 24th, 1871—A Lord’s Day morning, which also happened to be “Christmas Eve”—Spurgeon delivered a sermon entitled “Joy Born at Bethlehem” from his Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit.  In that sermon, Spurgeon declared:   

      We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons.  Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because [it’s] not of divine authority.  Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. . . .[50]

The Netherlands

Many Reformed Christians today may be surprised to discover that the Reformed Dutch also rejected the religious holidays.  Yet, their pre-Reformation traditions rapidly returned, and by the dawn of the twentieth century, Dutch churches and American denominations of Dutch lineage had embraced the liturgical calendar and religious holidays more than any other Reformed sect. 

After the Protestant Reformation, the Dutch Reformed churches rejected all religious holidays, except for the Lord’s Day.  The synod of Dordt, 1574, ruled: “As to the church holidays aside from Sunday, it is decided that people shall be content with Sunday only.”[51]  Maurice G. Hansen, historian for the Reformed Church in America (RCA) explains Dordt’s ruling in The Reformed Church in the Netherlands (1884):

     The [Dutch] Reformed churches had been in the habit of keeping Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide [Pentecost] as days of religious worship.  The synod [Provincial Synod of Dordrecht, 1574] enjoined the churches to do this no longer, but to be satisfied with Sundays for divine service.[52] 

Yet, notwithstanding this early opposition, the observance of the religious holidays gradually began to find acceptance among the Reformed in the Netherlands.  Cammenga attributes this change “largely to the fact that these days were set aside as holidays by the state.”  A dramatic shift had occurred by Dordt’s decision of 1618-19:

     The congregations shall observe
, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, with the following day; and since in most cities and provinces of the Netherlands besides these there are also observed the day of Circumcision and Ascension of Christ, the ministers everywhere, where this is still not the custom, shall put forth effort with the authorities that they may conform with the others.[53]

The Christian Reformed Church (CRC)
in the United States, a descendant of Dordt, revised its Church Order in 1914, adding several more religious holidays, including “Good Friday, the Annual Day of Prayer for Crops (traditionally the second Wednesday of March), the National Thanksgiving Day, and Old and New Year’s Day.”[54]

The Protestant Reformed Church (PRC)
similarly adopted a liturgical calendar.  Article 67 of the PRC Order states: “The churches shall observe, in addition to the Sunday, also Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, the Day of Prayer, the National Thanksgiving Day, and Old and New Year’s Day.”[55]

It is interesting to note that with the passing of time, the churches of Dutch descent added additional holy days.  Their official church documents bind (employing the strong language “shall observe”) their pastors, elders, and members to observe set days and seasons that are never mentioned in Scripture. 


America

New England sought to set itself apart from England.  The Puritans, having been unable to purify the worship of the church in England, hoped to establish a pure church in the New World. 

The intolerance of ecclesiastical holidays was shared by
English Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, and Scottish Presbyterians Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians repudiated “all the saints’ days” and observed “the Lord’s day as the Sabbath and the only season of holy time commanded to Christians.”[56]

In America, reprisals were as harsh as in Scotland for people found feasting or avoiding work on Christmas Day.[57]  For New Englanders, December 25th was a normal work day.  In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts decreed the following punishment for those who celebrated the Christmas season: “. . . anyone who is found observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting, or any other way, any such days as Christmas Day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings.”[58]  While this edict was repealed in 1681, opposition to Christmas observance remained strong in Massachusetts:  

     In 1686 the governor [of Massachusetts] needed two soldiers to escort him to Christmas services.  In 1706 a Boston mob smashed the windows in a church holding Christmas services.[59]

Increase Mather
, Nonconformist minister in Boston and rector of Harvard College, set forth some of the arguments then employed against the observance of religious holidays in his Testimony Against Prophane Customs (1687): 

     In the pure Apostolical times there was no Christ-mass-day observed in the Church of God.  We ought to keep to the primitive pattern.  That book of Scripture which is called, The Acts of the Apostles, saith nothing of their keeping Christ’s Nativity as an Holy-day.  The Centuriators, and many others take notice that in the first Ages of the New-Testament Church, there was no stated Anniversary Holy-days among Christians. 

     The Lord Christ has appointed the first day of the week to be perpetually observed in remembrance of his Resurrection and Redemption.  If more days than that had been needful, he would have appointed more. . . .  The Apostle condemns the observation of Jewish festivals in these days of the New Testament, Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16.  Much less may Christians state other days in their room [i.e., instead].  The Gospel has put an end to the difference of days as well as of meats.  And neither the Pope nor the Church can make some days holy above others, no more than they can make the use of some meats to be lawful or unlawful, both of which are expressly contrary to the Scripture, Rom. 14:5, 6.  All stated holidays of man’s inventing are breaches of the Second and of the Fourth Commandment.  A stated religious festival is a part of instituted worship.  Therefore it is not in the power of men, but God only, to make a day holy.[60]

New York was one of the first parts of the New World to embrace Christmas observance.  This may be attributed to the early predominance of the Dutch in New York (New York was founded by the Dutch and first named New Amsterdam).  New Yorkers celebrated Christmas from the 17th century on, but as late as 1874 Henry Ward Beecher, America’s most prominent preacher, said, “To me, Christmas is a foreign day.”[61]

While the Reformed churches in England and the Netherlands rapidly returned to their pre-Reformation observance of holy days, the American churches (with a few exceptions, such as in New York) held steadfastly to their principled rejection of them:

      Because of the Puritan influence, the festive aspects of Christmas, including the tree, were not accepted in New England until about 1875.  ‘It will be somewhat of a shock to learn that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most Pennsylvanians did not celebrate Christmas either.  Puritanism is a thing of the spirit, and Pennsylvania’s Puritans—who included the Quakers, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, as well as the Mennonites and other plain groups, who were Puritans in spirit—shared New England’s aversion to paying a special honor to the 25th of December’ (Yoder, p. 5).[62]

While Christmas observance became common in isolated areas such as New York City much earlier in the 17th century, “it was not until the 19th century that Christmas had any religious significance in Protestant churches.  Even as late as 1900, Christmas services were not held in Southern Presbyterian churches.”[63] 


American Presbyterianism

 Samuel Miller (1769-1850) was Moderator of the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) General Assembly in 1806 and later became Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton Seminary.  In 1835, he published a book entitled Presbyterianism:  The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ.  In the chapter on "The Worship of the Presbyterian Church," Miller mentions certain distinctives of Presbyterianism that set it apart from other groups within Christendom, including the rejection of holy-days (holidays), godparents in baptism, confirmation, kneeling to receive the Lord's Supper, and many other things which are practiced by Anglicans and Papists.[64]  Commenting on a statement found in the 1788 American Directory for Worship, Miller says, “Presbyterians Do Not Observe Holy Days.  We believe, and teach, in our public formularies, that ‘there is no day, under the Gospel dispensation, commanded to be kept holy, except the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath.’”[65] 

While Christmas was again becoming a popular secular holiday in America, it was not observed as a religious holiday prior to the late 19th century, especially in the South.  Ernest Trice Thompson, one of the most respected Southern Presbyterian historians, writes:

     The Presbyterian Church in this period [1607-1861] had no interest in a “Church Year.”  Easter was completely ignored, and Christmas, however popular as a holiday, was not a day of religious observance.[66]

Thompson sheds further light on the Reformed and Presbyterian (and most other Protestant) Christians’ observance of Christmas in the South prior to the late 19th century: 

     In the antebellum South, Christmas had been observed in accordance with the English custom as a day of jollity and goodwill, families were reunited, slaves enjoyed a rest from labor, and school-children looked forward to a four-day holiday from school.  There was
, however, no recognition of either Christmas or Easter in any of the Protestant churches, except the Episcopal and Lutheran.  For a full generation after the Civil War the religious journals of the South mentioned Christmas only to observe that there was no reason to believe that Jesus was actually born on December 25; it was not recognized as a day of any religious significance in the Presbyterian Church.[67]

An article printed in Southern Presbyterian journal (December 22, 1870) included the following objections to the observance of Christmas as a religious holiday: 

      If the exact date were known, or if some day (as December 25) had been agreed upon by common consent in the absence of any certain knowledge, we would still object to the observance of Christmas as a holy day.  We object for many reasons, but at present mention only this one—that experience has shown that the institution of holy days by human authority, however pure the intention, has invariably led to the disregard of the Holy day—the Sabbath—instituted by God.[68]

In the following decade (the 1880s—the January 3, 1884 issue), this same journal lamented the “growing tendency [to introduce church festivals into Protestant denominations], even in our own branch of the church. True, it is by no means general, and has not been carried very far, but it is enough to awaken our concern and to call forth at least a word of warning that the observance of Easter and Christmas is increasing amongst us . . ."[69]  So by the late 19th century, the inroads of church holiday observance among Southern Protestant denominations were beginning to become evident.[70] 

By about the turn of the century, Christmas customs began to appear in Presbyterian churches.  Thompson argues that the capitulation to ecclesiastical holiday observance seems to have originated “in the Sunday schools, or in festivities arranged for the Sunday school children in the church auditorium.”[71]  Michael Schneider concurs, observing how various Christmas customs began appearing in Presbyterian churches.  Schneider explains, “These came through the introduction of frivolities like St. Nicholas in children's Sunday school, the use of Christmas trees, and other festive elements.  The observance appears to have come from the lower levels of the church—that is, from sentiments of people in the congregations—and worked its way into sermons and more general acceptance.”[72]  Early in the twentieth century, Katharine Lambert Richards did an extensive study of this influence of the Protestant Sunday Schools.  She concluded: 

      A résumé of the development of Christmas observance in the Protestant Sunday-schools of the United States makes one thing clear; Christmas returned to Protestant church life because the rank and file of the membership wanted it.  It made its way against official opposition in many denominations until there were so many local groups celebrating December twenty-fifth as the birthday of Jesus that opposition was futile and indifference impossible.  Even when the denomination accepted Christmas as part of the church year its position was magnified and its celebration increased in response to popular desire.  As time went on, Sunday-school and other denominational leaders played a larger part in the promotion of certain types of Christmas observances but as a rule the local schools have remained the chief experiment stations.  Christmas preceded other church festivals in general recognition and has continued to overshadow them in popular esteem.[73]

The letters of James W. Alexander, a teacher at Princeton Seminary, pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, and a prolific writer for the American Sunday-School Union, further demonstrate the drift of the Presbyterian attitude toward Christmas.  “On December 25, 1838, Dr. Alexander ventured to wish his correspondent a Merry Christmas; on Christmas Day of 1843, he made one of a family reunion at his father’s house in Princeton.  In 1845 he speaks of Christmas meetings as common in New York City on Christmas.  In 1851 Christmas saw Dr. Alexander in nine churches – five Roman Catholic, one Unitarian, and three Episcopal.  His own longing for ‘anniversary festivals’ was openly expressed the next year, only to be set aside in obedience to Presbyterian tenets, as ‘against the second commandment.’”[74]

Dramatic changes would soon take place within all of the American Presbyterian denominations.  The next chapter (Chapter 2: “The 20th Century Shift in American Presbyterianism”) has been devoted to chronicling these changes.  Yet, I cannot help but emphasize what Katharine Lambert Richards noted above: “Christmas returned to Protestant church life because the rank and file of the membership wanted it.”  No church councils were held.  No stunning doctoral dissertation was published to substantiate the rejection of the worship practices of the Reformers and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches in America.  Rather, the shift occurred rather suddenly and with little publicity.  The membership wanted to return to the pre-Reformation holiday observances, and the pastors and denominations would soon become willing to grant their request. 
 

 The 20th Century 

By the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the celebration of religious holidays was becoming increasingly popular among American Christians.  While some denominations were still officially opposed to religious holidays, the tide was turning.  By the mid-twentieth century, American Presbyterian denominations incrementally began to give official sanction to the observance of religious holidays.  By the end of the twentieth century, it would be difficult to find any Christian congregation (Reformed, Presbyterian, evangelical, or other) in the United States or Europe that did not celebrate Christmas and Easter—with many also observing a host of other holy days and seasons. 


Conclusion

Church history demonstrates that Christmas was not observed as a religious holiday until around the fourth century.  After being abandoned at the Protestant Reformation, the holiday and other ecclesiastical holidays have gradually crept their way back into the Protestant Church.  By the latter half of the twentieth century, the Protestant Church finds itself essentially in the same place as the Roman Church prior to the Reformation.  While we may not observe holy days for the saints, in principle, we have returned to the worship practices of the pre-Reformation Roman Church. 

The formal principle of the Reformation was sola Scriptura.  Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice.  While the teachings of those pastors and theologians quoted in this chapter may prove helpful for us, their arguments should never be viewed as infallible.  Only Scripture is infallibly true and divinely authoritative.   

Nevertheless, if we are Christians, we need to ask ourselves why the Reformers and so many Reformed and Presbyterian theologians and pastors from the Reformation until the twentieth century were so strongly opposed to the observance of religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. 

It is clear that nothing less than a modern reformation occurred in Reformed and Presbyterian churches during the twentieth century in regard to this area of worship.  But was it a return to true worship, or was it a return to the false worship characteristic of the Roman Catholic church?  In other words, should the return to the celebration of Christmas and Easter in Reformed and Presbyterian churches during the twentieth century be considered an example of post tenebras lux (“after darkness light”) or post lux tenebras (“after light darkness”)?  Has Scripture led us to reform the church’s worship in a manner that the Reformers and those quoted in this chapter were unable or unwilling to do?  Or has Protestantism returned to the worship practices of the spiritual Dark Ages, which preceded the Protestant Reformation? 

If there is no compelling, Scriptural reason or reasons why the twentieth-century church rejected the teaching of the Reformers, the Westminster Assembly, and the vast majority of our Presbyterian (and Reformed) forefathers, then we ought to rethink Biblically the observance of church holidays. 

______________________________________________

[1] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 70.  For a detailed discussion of the pagan roots of Christmas, Easter, and other religious holidays, please refer to Appendix B.
[2] Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed, Christmas: A Biblical Critique (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993), 20-21.  See Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1835), 76. 
[3] Brian Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” (Lansing, Michigan: electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.reformed.com/pub/xmas.htm, 1996), 14, emphasis added.  See Origen’s eighth homily on Leviticus. 
[4] G.I. Williamson, “Holy Days of Men and Holy Days of God,” The Presbyterian Reformed Magazine 7:4 (1993), 217. 

[5] G.I. Williamson, “On the Observance of Sacred Days” (Havertown: New Covenant Publications Society, n.d.). 

[6] Ruth Reichmann.  Max Kade German-American Center, IUPUI.  “Christmas”     Electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.serve.com/shea/germusa/xmasintr.htm 

[7] Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle,” 14.  Schneider notes that most modern holidays with their customs and traditions—such as, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Mardi Gras—have come to us today “from ancient Babylon, through Rome, through the Roman Catholic church.” (Schneider, Christmas, 7)  In regard to the celebration of Easter, Samuel Miller (1769-1850), professor of church history at Princeton Seminary, writes:

Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, who wrote soon after the time of Eusebius, and begins his history where the latter closes his narrative; speaking on the controversy concerning Easter, expresses himself thus: ‘Neither the ancients, nor the fathers of later times, I mean such as favoured the Jewish custom, had sufficient cause to contend so eagerly about the feast of Easter; for they considered not within themselves, that when the Jewish religion was changed to Christianity, the literal observance of the Mosaic law, and the types of things to come, wholly ceased.  And this carries with it its own evidence.  For no one of Christ’s laws permits Christians to observe the rites of the Jews.  Nay, the Apostle hath in plain words forbidden it, where he abrogates circumcision, and exhorts us not to contend about feasts and holy-days.  For, writing to the Galatians, he admonishes them not to observe days, and months, and times, and years.  And unto the Colossians, he is as plain as may be, declaring, that the observance of such things was but a shadow.  Neither the Apostles nor the Evangelists have enjoined on Christians the observance of Easter; but have left the remembrance of it to the free choice and discretion of those who have been benefited by such days.  Men keep holy-days, because thereon they enjoy rest from toil and labour.  Therefore, it comes to pass, that in every place they do celebrate, of their own accord, the remembrance of the Lord’s passion.  But neither our Saviour nor his Apostles have any where commanded us to observe it.’  Socrates, Lib. 5, cap. 21.

Here, then, is an eminent Christian writer who flourished early in the fifth century, who had made the history of the Church his particular study; who explicitly declares, that neither Christ nor his Apostles gave any command, or even countenance to the observance of festival days; that it was brought into the Church by custom; and that in different parts of the Church there was diversity of practice in regard to this matter.  With respect to Easter, in particular, this diversity was striking.  We no sooner hear of its observance at all, than we begin to hear of contest, and interruption of Christian fellowship on account of it; some quoting the authority of the Apostles for keeping this festival on one day; and others, with equal confidence, quoting the authority of other Apostles for the selection of a different day: thereby clearly demonstrating, that there was error somewhere, and rendering it highly probable that all parties were wrong, and that no such observances at all, were binding on Christians. (Miller, Presbyterianism, 74-75.)

[8] Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1997), 141-142.
[9] Electronically retrieved 21 December 2001 at http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/main.html
[10] “The history of Christmas.”  World Book Online Encyclopedia, electronically retrieved 21 December 2001 at http://www2.worldbook.com/students/feature_index.asp
[11] Melissa Snell, “Medieval Christmas Traditions,” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at    http://historymedren.about.com/library/blxmas.htm
[12] Ibid. 
[13] “Tropes,” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at   http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Noel/angl/trope.htm
[14] Kathleen Campbell, “Notes on the English mystery plays,” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at http://artemis.austinc.edu/acad/HWC22/Medieval/english_mystery_plays.html
[15] “Liturgical Dramas and Mysteries, ” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at  http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Noel/angl/mystere.htm
[16]  “Tropes,” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Noel/angl/trope.htm
[17] Kathleen Campbell, “Notes on the English mystery plays,” electronically retrieved 23 December 2001 at  http://artemis.austinc.edu/acad/HWC22/Medieval/english_mystery_plays.html
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin Monsma, The New Revised Church Order Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 201, emphasis added.  
[20] Increase Mather, A Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practised by Some in New England, the Evil whereof is evinced from the Holy Scriptures, and from the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines (London: n.p., 1687), 23, electronically retrieved 11 July 2002 at http://www.covenanter.org/Imather/increasemathertestimony.htm, emphasis added.  Increase Mather was the teacher (pastor) of a church in Boston and rector of Harvard College at Cambridge in New England.  
[21]
K. DeGier, Explanation of the Church Order of Dordt, trans. John J. Van Hassent (Grand Rapids: Synod of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, 1974), 97, emphasis added.
[22]
Martin Luther, Three Treatises, trans. Charles M. Jacobs and James Atkinson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 72-73, emphasis added.
[23] See William Ames, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship (n.p., 1633), 360, as quoted in Brian Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” (Lansing, Michigan, 1996), 17, electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.reformed.com/pub/xmas.htm, emphasis added.  
[24]
Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed, Christmas: A Biblical Critique (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993), 24. 
[25]
The Register of the Company of Pastors in the Time of Calvin, ed. and trans. Philip E. Hughes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 130, cf. 56. 
[26] John Knox, “The General Assembly to Theodore Beza, and Translation, September 4, 1566,” The Works of John Knox, vol. 6, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1855), 547-548.
[27] Kevin Reed, “True and False Worship” (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1994), 4, electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/tfworship.html
[28] David Calderwood, Reasons Against Festival Days (Naphtali Press, 1997: electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at http://www.naphtali.com/days.htm). 
[29]
John Knox, The Works of John Knox, vol. 2, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1855), 185-186, author’s translation, emphasis added.
[30] Electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at http://www.newgenevacenter.org/biography/knox2.htm#links

[31] Schneider, Christmas, 31-32. 
[32]
Ibid., 32-33.
[33] Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland: Historical and Doctrinal (1837), as quoted in Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” 38.
[34] Ruth Wilson, “Christmas and Hogmanay in Glasgow,” (Glasgow, Scotland: Glasgow Delegate, 2001), electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.ifla2002.org/guides/christmas/, emphasis added.
[35] Ibid.
[36]
Ibid. 
[37] Ibid.
[38]
Westminster Confession of Faith (1646; reprint, Glasgow, Scotland: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2001), 394, emphasis added.
[39]
  Schneider, Christmas, 52.
[40] Reichmann, “Christmas.” 
[41] Schneider, Christmas, 7. 
[42]
Reichmann, “Christmas.” 
[43]
Schneider, Christmas, 49. 
[44] Wilson, “Christmas and Hogmanay in Glasgow.”
[45]
Reichmann, “Christmas.” 
[46] Schneider, Christmas, 40. 
[47] William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, ed. and trans. John D. Eusden (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1968), 300.  Ames adds, “The Jews had no formally sanctified feast days except by divine institution” (ibid). 
[48] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel (1820; reprint, London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 234, emphasis added.
[49]
Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (1674; reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 139, emphasis added.
[50] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1984), 697, emphasis added.  Spurgeon goes on to say in the introduction to his sermon:

It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it.  Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Saviour might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year.  Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious?  Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals.  We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. (Ibid.)


[51] Ronald Cammenga (Pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church [PRC] in Grandville, MI).  “Decency and Order: Religious Holidays,” electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at http://www.apuritansmind.com./Christmas/CammengaChristmas.htm
[52] Maurice G. Hansen, The Reformed Church in the Netherlands (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1884), 89, as quoted in David W. Cason, Christmas-Keeping and the Reformed Faith (n.p., 1995), electronically retrieved 17 May 2002 at http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualnls/Xmas_ch3.htm.
[53] Cammenga, “Decency and Order,” emphasis added. 
[54]
Ibid., emphasis added.
[55]
Ibid., emphasis added.
[56] Katharine Lambert Richards, How Christmas Came to the Sunday-Schools: The Observance of Christmas in the Protestant church schools of the United States, an historical study (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1934), 90, emphasis added.    
[57]
Wilson, “Christmas and Hogmanay in Glasgow.” 
[58]
Schneider, Christmas, 7. 
[59]
Reichmann, “Christmas.” 
[60] Increase Mather, A Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, 19, 23, emphasis added.
[61] Reichmann, “Christmas.” 
[62] Ibid., emphasis added.
[63] Schneider, Christmas, 7.  A secular historian similarly notes, “It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas.  Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia.”  (Electronically retrieved 21 December 2001 at http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/main.html )
[64]
Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1835), 73-87ff.
[65]
Ibid., 73.  Miller also declares:  “We believe, indeed, and declare, in the same formula, that it is both scriptural and rational, to observe special days of Fasting and Thanksgiving, as the extraordinary dispensations of Divine Providence may direct.  But we are persuaded, that even the keeping of these days, when they are made stated observances, recurring, of course, at particular times, whatever the aspect of Providence may be, is calculated to promote formality and superstition, rather than the edification of the body of Christ” (Ibid.). 
[66] Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1973), 1:464, emphasis added.  In regard to the observance of Christmas “as a holiday,” Thompson notes, “There was no objection to Christmas as a time of festivity—a day when families reassembled and when tokens of friendship and love were exchanged—just so no religious significance was attached to it” (Ibid., 3:350).    
[67] Ibid., 2:434, emphasis added. 
[68]
Ibid., 2:434. 
[69] Ibid.  In regard to Easter observance, Thompson notes:

Recognition of Easter as a holy day was opposed even more strenuously than Christmas.  The editor of the Texas Presbyterian was amazed to learn that observance of Easter was being boldly advocated by some Presbyterian pulpits outside of the South.  “As Presbyterians,” he protested, “we have no more right to institute an Easter than we have to set up a golden calf in the sanctuary.  The man who does not understand that lacks the essentials of a Presbyterian and should cease to call himself one.” (“Presbyterians and Easter,” Texas Presbyterian [May 4, 1893], 7, as quoted in Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, 3:351, emphasis added.)

[70] A secular historian comments, “As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed.  People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated.  In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.  Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation” (Electronically retrieved 21 December 2001 at http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/main.html), emphasis added.
[71]
Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, 2:434. 
[72]
Schneider, Christmas, 58. 
[73] Richards, How Christmas Came to the Sunday-Schools, 220, emphasis added. 
[74] Ibid., 91.  Cf. John Hall, Forty years’ familiar letters of James W. Alexander, D.D. (New York: Scribner, 1860), 2:181.
 


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