Why didn’t the early Quakers celebrate Christmas?

christmas-ave-signIn 1656, two otherwise obscure Friends, Margaret Killam and Barbara Patison, addressed a “Warning from the Lord to the Teachers and People” of the city of Plymouth, England. The Lord apparently found much to fault in Plymouth, and Killam and Patison asked some pointed questions. Among them were these:

Whether all these observations of these times, Christmas,

Easter, and Whitsuntide, the fine apparel made against these

times, the fine Diet, and past-times, and pleasures in these things,

whether all these be not pleasing to the flesh, yea or nay? And

whether those that observe the day and profess the name, be

not they that crucify the life, yea or nay?

In these questions is found the substance of the Quaker disapproval of not just celebrating Christmas, but all holidays.

Friends objected strongly to any special observance of what they called “days and times.” They did not believe that God had made any day holier than any other, and so regarded holidays as “contrivances of man,” which distracted from true religion. Seventeenth-century Friends, who looked on the Roman Catholic Church as anti-Christian, would have to look no farther than the very name “Christmas”—the mass of Christ—to be suspicious.

The first question from Killam and Patison expressed the other objection. In seventeenth-century England, Christmas was usually celebrated with feasting and frivolity. Friends saw this as, once again, distracting from true religion. And they, like George Fox, thought that the money spent on new clothes and carousing in taverns might better be given to relieve the sufferings of the poor. Thus as a youth, George Fox felt led:  “When the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves, I looked out poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money.”

Quakers were not alone in such objections. Puritans and many other godly people in seventeenth-century England shared them. The “war on Christmas” is not a recent development.

-Tom Hamm

One Response to "Why didn’t the early Quakers celebrate Christmas?"
  1. Surely the same applies today. Most Friends do celebrate (or ‘consume’) Christmas. My husband and I completely ignored Christmas this year and stuck out like a sore thumb in Meeting.

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