I am aware that there are as many different ways of celebrating Christmas as there are Quakers, lol! However I am wondering how those of you who identify as Christian, and who strive to be simple and plain, celebrate this holiday. Gifts? Decorations? Traditions? Please share your story!

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Historically Friends have not celebrated holidays, because no day is more holy than any other. All days are holy. That began to change in the latter half of the 19th century.

That does not surprise me, but I am wondering about modern day Quakers specifically. I have been simplifying my Christmas for many years now, but still celebrate it, and am curious what others do.

Paula Deming said:

Historically Friends have not celebrated holidays, because no day is more holy than any other. All days are holy. That began to change in the latter half of the 19th century.

We always loved Christmas, and decorated as much as we could, consistent with the conservative practice of the plain community hereabouts.

By the way, I recall one Christmas Eve long ago (before I was married) when my parents and I made a trip to South Starksboro VT, to take a jar of our honey to Friends Walter Orvis and (his daughter) Helen Russell, something we did every year as long as we had bees.  Helen gave us a pan of fresh "squash rolls" to take home.  My mother improvised a squash roll recipe, and they have been a holiday tradition in our family since that time.

That same night Helen told me that she had terminal cancer.  I don't think she lived to see another Christmas.  May the Lord bless and keep her in His presence evermore.

William, thanks for sharing that reminiscence! The So. Starksboro meeting is 6 miles from me, it is where I would attend if I could!


William F Rushby said:

We always loved Christmas, and decorated as much as we could, consistent with the conservative practice of the plain community hereabouts.

By the way, I recall one Christmas Eve long ago (before I was married) when my parents and I made a trip to South Starksboro VT, to take a jar of our honey to Friends Walter Orvis and (his daughter) Helen Russell, something we did every year as long as we had bees.  Helen gave us a pan of fresh "squash rolls" to take home.  My mother improvised a squash roll recipe, and they have been a holiday tradition in our family since that time.

That same night Helen told me that she had terminal cancer.  I don't think she lived to see another Christmas.  May the Lord bless and keep her in His presence evermore.

We celebrate Christmas, but on a low key. There's a wreath with candles that we use during nightly worship. There's stained glass creche that was made by my mother. Gifts are inexpensive.

When my son was young, we celebrated all the winter holidays; Diwali, Yule, Hanukkah, Solstice, St. Nicholas's day, St. Brighid's day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Twelfthnight... It not only helped him learn of other cultures and share celebrations with our wildly variant friends and relations; it spread out the gifts so that Christmas ceased to be a materialistic orgy and became one facet of a long, lovely time of sharing and celebrating. Since I was, and am, part of a group that studies the Middle Ages by doing things they did, I also had the advantage of establishing Twelfthnight as _our_ family's gift-giving day. He thought it completely reasonable that Christmas was for present from his non-reenacting relations, and agreed that  it made excellent sense to use the 75% off sales after Christmas to make Twelfthnight much merrier than our extremely low income could ever have managed for Christmas day...

By pure chance I was writing about this today, these were my thoughts:

 

"Why do so many of us feel the need to celebrate festivals and feast days even if our religion, or for many, a lack of religion contradicts this need. Time for a look at some very ancient history, or is that ancient mystery?

The Etruscans lived in Italy before the Romans, and much of their mythology became incorporated into Roman mythology with time. The story tells that once a man was ploughing a field and came upon something strange in the soil. At first he thought that it was a stone, but being of a strange pale colour, he decided to investigate it and found it warm to the touch. On digging around the strange object it soon became clear that this was the head of a human baby. The baby was young yet could speak like an old man. Soon a crowd gathered around the baby and it began to talk, telling of many things that would be the basis of the Etruscan (and later Roman) religions. The most strange prophesy concerns chickens, whom Tages said hold secrets in their bodies, waiting to be laid as eggs. Killing the chickens and reading their entrails can reveal the secret but it may take many years of training to learn to do this. Tages eventually turned into an old man before dying and returning to the Earth from which he had come. One of his final and seemingly most important statements was about festivals – Tages warned that festivals must be kept because festivals are ‘the columns that hold up the year’.

This has become my idea of festivals and feasts of all kinds, those with a religious history like Christmas, those with a mainly secular background like Thanksgiving or Burns Night, and those rooted in our agricultural past like harvest and ‘first frost’. These are important because they mark out the year; they give us things to remind us of the past and opportunities to pass on traditions to younger members of the family. As a Quaker I don’t accept that any day is more important than the rest, but I don’t think the occasional annual celebration, as selected by the family as something to mark, is a problem. All we need to do is mark them simply and avoid the over commercialization that defiles much of our modern lives. Your family must decide which you want to mark and those that you prefer to leave to others."

"the columns that hold up the year"  What a lovely way to put that! We do need ways to mark the passing of time and to honor the cycles of life.



Ray Lovegrove said:

By pure chance I was writing about this today, these were my thoughts:

 

"Why do so many of us feel the need to celebrate festivals and feast days even if our religion, or for many, a lack of religion contradicts this need. Time for a look at some very ancient history, or is that ancient mystery?

The Etruscans lived in Italy before the Romans, and much of their mythology became incorporated into Roman mythology with time. The story tells that once a man was ploughing a field and came upon something strange in the soil. At first he thought that it was a stone, but being of a strange pale colour, he decided to investigate it and found it warm to the touch. On digging around the strange object it soon became clear that this was the head of a human baby. The baby was young yet could speak like an old man. Soon a crowd gathered around the baby and it began to talk, telling of many things that would be the basis of the Etruscan (and later Roman) religions. The most strange prophesy concerns chickens, whom Tages said hold secrets in their bodies, waiting to be laid as eggs. Killing the chickens and reading their entrails can reveal the secret but it may take many years of training to learn to do this. Tages eventually turned into an old man before dying and returning to the Earth from which he had come. One of his final and seemingly most important statements was about festivals – Tages warned that festivals must be kept because festivals are ‘the columns that hold up the year’.

This has become my idea of festivals and feasts of all kinds, those with a religious history like Christmas, those with a mainly secular background like Thanksgiving or Burns Night, and those rooted in our agricultural past like harvest and ‘first frost’. These are important because they mark out the year; they give us things to remind us of the past and opportunities to pass on traditions to younger members of the family. As a Quaker I don’t accept that any day is more important than the rest, but I don’t think the occasional annual celebration, as selected by the family as something to mark, is a problem. All we need to do is mark them simply and avoid the over commercialization that defiles much of our modern lives. Your family must decide which you want to mark and those that you prefer to leave to others."

Hello again, Patricia!

I have a few more comments to offer on Christmas.

In the last couple of days I found two anti-Christmas tracts in the collection of mail and church mail which has proliferated on one of my sofas.  They were not written by Friends, but by someone in a more "doctrinaire" Mennonite group.  They might have been slipped into my church mailbox by some undercover agent and, most likely, into everyone else's.  These tracts present the same anti-Christmas rationale that many traditional Friends subscribed to in the past.

When all days become holy, then they all become ordinary and secular.  A sense of holiness depends upon a distinction between the sacred and profane.  Take it away, and all days become ordinary.  Good old sociology of religion, Mircea Eliade as I recall.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mircea_Eliade

The Mennonite church we (now I) have fellowshipped with since being "released" from our meeting splits into two groups and goes Christmas caroling every year.  I wasn't going to go this year because of my lingering grief over losing my wife in March, but the junior minister implored me to come, as "co-pilot"; I have lived in the Blue Grass Valley for a long time, and can find my way around in the dark much better than the other church folks.  I guided, but didn't get out of the car.  The caroling, together with a gift plate of Christmas refreshments, touches many of those visited; they often shed tears!

Yesterday, I traveled to Rockingham County, to my stepdaughter's for Christmas dinner and, as it turned out, a game of Dominoes in the afternoon.  Her husband's widowed mother was also a guest, and the mother-in-law relished the game!

In Bridgewater, I passed a buggy carrying a family.  The buggy windows were fogged up.  I don't know if this was because of the number of passengers, or if they were using a propane heater to warm the interior.  A little child was visible inside, watching the cars pass the buggy.  "Over the hills and through the town, off to Grandmother's house we go!"

As I was headed north from Dayton VA toward my stepdaughter's, I noticed seven buggies in the yard of a farm home.  No horses in sight.  They had apparently been unhitched and taken to the barn, an indication of a prolonged visit.  This underlines the "family and friends" aspect of Christmas, which I find so important.

Most of these events would not have occurred unless a holiday had provided the break in the normal routine in life, and space for the enactment of faith and family values. 

I haven't touched on the theological significance of Christmas, God's profound self-revelation in Christ.  I think I won't this time, as my post is long enough already.

Thank you for your comments, Friend William, I enjoyed reading them! I especially think this is a good point:

"When all days become holy, then they all become ordinary and secular.  A sense of holiness depends upon a distinction between the sacred and profane.  Take it away, and all days become ordinary. "

Hello, Patrice!  I apologize for getting your name wrong.

In my preoccupation with the Old Order Mennonites, I failed to note what the "World" was doing in Rockingham County VA on Christmas Day.  Most fast food restaurants appeared to be closed, including McDonalds and Dairy Queen.  My favorite Hess station was also closed, as were most other gas stations.  I think that Walmart on Route 42 was closed.  Fortunately for me, Sheetz was open, so I didn't have to walk back to Highland County!  I am pleased that so many businesses seemed to give their employees the holiday off.

Christmas did indeed create a space for people to take a break from their everyday routine.  And I hope that they did not miss the spiritual significance of the holiday!

Did you get my name wrong? I didn't even notice, LOL! It is a common occurrence! I'm glad you had a nice Christmas. We went to the  South Starksboro, VT Quaker meeting on Sunday, our second time there. It was wonderful. We even took my 5 year old grandson, who loves to go to church with me. We talked about what it would be like ahead of time, and he was quiet the whole time (of course he was playing games on my cell phone!) No one at the meeting was disturbed by him, in fact I think they were happy to see him.

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