In a timely post for December, we’re discussing the old Testimony Against Times & Seasons, aka holidays. Historically, Quakers did not do holidays. Every day is sacred. “This is the day the Lord has made.” Nowadays, most of us are fine with holidays.
Why Quakers didn’t do holidays
For some historical context, when Quakers were getting started in the mid-1600s, we were pretty darn Puritanical. We’ve mentioned this before. It was also common to celebrate basically anything by getting completely smashed. Think of Americans at St Patrick’s Day. While Quakers have gone back and forth a bit on alcohol, we’ve pretty much always held that getting trashed isn’t that great an idea. If holidays are about getting drunk, then no holidays.
On top of that, there’s a lot of stuff in Christmas celebration (decorated trees, Yule logs, mistletoe) and Easter (bunnies and decorated eggs) that’s flat-out Pagan. Puritans and Quakers wanted to purge anything Pagan from their practice. That’s also where the “we don’t say Friday” thing comes from (Friday = Freya’s Day). Often, early Quakers would say “heathenish” to refer to Catholic practices which they saw as coming from Pagan practices.
There’s also a belief in remembering the incarnation (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) year-round, not just on certain days.
Christian versus secular Christmas
We have a brief interlude to explain the differences between religious and secular celebrations of Christmas.
Some Christians follow the Liturgical calendar. In this calendar, Advent is a season roughly 4 weeks long (starting on a Sunday) prior to December 25. This year, it’s December 3–24. Christmas is a season lasting 12 days, starting on December 25 and going until the Epiphany (which celebrates the visit by the three wise men). Advent is a season of expectant waiting. It’s a period for self-reflection, similar to Lent (the 40 days before Easter). In these traditions, it’s inappropriate to sing songs such as “Joy to the World” during Advent, because you’re still waiting. There is a separate set of songs for Advent, such as “Oh Come, Emmanuel.” Some traditional Episcopalians won’t put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. The tree is often expected to stay up until Epiphany.
In mainstream society, Christmas is a season that ends on December 25. In the US, it starts the day after Thanksgiving, with Black Friday shopping. It is marked by stress. There are gifts to buy and to wrap. There’s the house to clean. There’s a feast to plan and prepare. There’s travel to arrange. Many people expect to have their trees and decorations put away by New Years Day. There’s just plain a lot of consumerism.
Most Quakers do celebrate holidays now. It’s not unusual to find a Christmas tree somewhere in a meetinghouse, though Mackenzie was shocked to see one in the meetingroom at her meeting. Meetings will often take Christmas or Christmas Eve as an opportunity to have an extra meeting for worship.
Quaker celebrations of holidays may not seem all that different from mainstream celebrations. Some might contend we’re a little more low-key about it.
Some Quakers (and low-church non-Liturgical Protestants in general) are starting to see a value in the Liturgical calendar. The flip-side of “no, you’re supposed to remember those every day” is “but it’s easy to forget, so it helps to set aside a dedicated time.”
And when you’re in a Liberal Quaker meeting that actually has Quagans (Pagan Quakers) in it, “we don’t do that because Pagan” just doesn’t make sense.
The two of us?
People keep gifting us ornaments, so we’ve both had to figure out what to do with them.
Micah’s putting up a Christmas tree this year. He likes decorating and the smell of pine.
Mackenzie doesn’t really do holiday decorations. She resisted having anything like a Christmas tree for years, finally settling on a tree-shaped metal ornament display rack to satisfy her nagging Catholic mother. She might get around to putting it up at some point this month. Maybe.
We both give gifts.
Things we forgot to say
We talked a little bit after we stopped recording, so here are a couple other things:
- Since we officially don’t follow the Liturgical calendar, we get Christmas music year round.
- Mackenzie makes Ukrainian Easter eggs but tends to make them at weird times of year so they’re an ethnic art thing, not a religious thing.