Christmas, Puritans, and Feasting

I’m a bad Puritan.

I mean I’d like to be a better Puritan (qua reformer) but since I’m just about over the works-righteousness and essentialism (can we say “taking the best of all religions” gang?) that the Unitarians inherited from their Puritan ancestors, I doubt I’ll ever really go back. I pray for the dead. I observe unbiblical holidays. Plus my paternal ancestors — Sabbatarian Baptists — seem to have been invited to leave colonial Massachusetts for the balmy climes of Rhode Island. I can hardly care what Puritans then or now might think.

So I was a little taken back when Philo commented on the Buy Nothing Day post, the day after Thanskgiving.

He wrote: “I’ve never signed on to the anti-consumer Christmas thing, though, and frankly love to spoil my nephews and nieces. Avoiding debt is important, but the puritanism of the ‘buy nothing’ movement makes no sense to me.”

(Hmm. You’d think someone so, well, orange would be given to more Protestant curiosities. Anyway . . . .)

His words stung just a tad. Could it be that I still cultivate Puritan habits?

By puritanism, he could mean the work-righteous attitude or the “Christmas essentialism” (religious observance and nothing else) that Buy Nothing Day tends to cultivate. Or perhaps he was recalling the very real Puritan “War on Christmas” that they were quite close to winning.

Well, I’ll stick to spending less than usual for Christmas — and stick to the budget, and pay in cash — but Christmas will be quite festive. I was thinking about what usual elements are found in a celebration, and came up with these:

  1. eating
  2. visiting (card sending is an extension of this)
  3. decorating
  4. gift-giving
  5. some kind of commemoration — sometimes religions, but speeches and toasts often fill in

It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to do as many of these — quite joyously — within one’s means, and one could enjoy a thoroughgoingly secular Christmas without a religious observance (one alternative to conspicuous consumption, and a rationale against it) and less agita besides. Why let the preparations for the festival be confused with the festival itself? Or confuse planning with anticipation?

That’s all I ask.

In this vein, I hope to make my Christmas feasting more merry with martzipanschtollen. OK: two martzipanschtollen. Bought on sale.

Categorized as Holidays

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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