AA per_(.)(.)_tive : Quakers / Christmas - 1

Mary Calhoun moriah at preferred.com
Tue Dec 14 12:16:29 JEST 1999

per_(.)(.)_tive from the Administrative Assistant's inbox--

Quakers on Christmas

_(^)(^)_  f/Friends are periodically heard wondering how Quakers
traditionally celebrate Christmas, so the following seemed worth sharing...

(from Chattanooga Friends Meeting's "Friendly Voice")

Part 1 of 4

Quakers have always been at least a little skeptical about the celebration
of Christmas.  In 1643, for example, George Fox wrote in his journal, "And
when the time Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting
themselves, I would have gone and looked out poor widows from house to
house, and have given them some money."  At least in Nickall's edition of
his journal, Fox makes only infrequent references to the holiday and usually
in terms of the "time called" or  "the day called" Christmas.  For Fox, this
apparently was a time only *called* Christmas.

"How can we keep our own testimony of simplicity...?"
    Not surprisingly, therefore, Christmas continues to concern Quakers.
This fact became obvious after a message was posted recently on a Quaker
e-mail discussion group. "My husband and I are convinced Quakers who seek
help in coping with the Christmas holidays.  We long to simplify and share
the Quaker conviction that every day is holy.  But what do we do about
aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws who see things differently?  How can we
keep our own testimony of simplicity without hurting their feelings?  I
should add that we have two children ages 8 and 9."
    Numerous responses followed with many expressing the same kind of
problem with Christmas.  One message read, for instance, "My husband and I
are in similar circumstances and would dearly appreciate any words of wisdom
as well.  We have simplified greatly our own seasonal appreciation, to make
every day more meaningful and mindful of the eternal and the sacred.  But
when there are over fifty people in the immediate family who are not
practicing any faith except that of acquisition, these occasions can be very
trying and painful.  We really don't wish to throw our children into the
middle of these noisy, flashy, superficial experiences once year and call it
'Christmas.'  We are planning to spend the Eve and Day in a cabin with other
Friends nearby; but we still will have family gatherings to attend.  How do
we show our love for relatives while not being 'of' the flash and the hype
and the drive to buy and give so many expensive and unnecessary presents?"

"...look at me as though I've joined a cult!"
    Another discussion of the problem with Christmas began, "I come from a
large, Protestant family which celebrates four high holy days: Xmas, Turkey
Day, Easter & Independence Day.  Of the four, only Thanksgiving fails to
present me with any misgivings.  I have no desire to forego the family
fellowship that comes with these holidays, but at the same time I don't wish
to buy into the consumerism that has infiltrated the two religious
celebrations, or the jingoism that so marks America's birthday."
    "In an attempt to simplify Christmas, last year my wife and I actually
*made* gifts.  Our relatives with more open minds actually liked them,
although more materialistic relatives thought we were being cheap.  Frankly,
it would have been easier to just go to the mall and buy something though."
    "Recently I read a critique of the current state of Christmas in western
society, and the author (I forget who) posited that the rise of consumerism
is a reflection of the decline of family relations.  When we were still a
predominately agricultural society, we were in constant interaction with our
immediate and extended family. We were tied to each other through economic
bonds.  The help of the family was necessary to harvest the fields, raise
the barn, slaughter the pigs, etc.  Every day we are reminded of the
importance of family through these necessities.  Gifts at Christmas time
were simple and for the most part handmade, tokens of affection."
    "But in our 20th century industrial society, the economic bonds have for
the most part been lost.  The author hypothesized that we give gifts as a
replacement.  We give a sweater to Aunt Marge because she gave us a coffee
maker last year.  And thus Aunt Marge feels obligated to give us something
in return *next* year!  Our relationships are formed around the gifts we
give and receive instead of the help that we give and receive."
    "This theory has weighed heavily in my mind for the past couple months,
and I've come to the realization that I feel more of a connection with the
friends we made in our Meeting than I do with my extended family, the
closest of whom lives 300 miles away.  Being separated by a 10 hour car
drive means that I don't see my family except for holidays, and my
relationship with them is really based upon my interactions with them on
these days, including the exchange of gifts."
    "One last note:  How do Friends respond to relatives who don't
understand the concept that *every* day is holy, and not just Christmas and
Easter?  When I say this, my father, aunt, uncle and grandmother (all
ministers) look at me as though I've joined a cult!  They grudgingly accept
the lack of sacraments (my grandparents were Salvation Army ministers), but
no High Holy Days?  Frankly, if this keeps up, I'm tempted to shave my head
wear saffron robes and hand out flowers at the next family gathering!"

...to be continued...
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Mary Calhoun, AA

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