UU Minute Christmas Special

Our Holiday

Unitarian History makes clear that Christmas is the Unitarian Holiday!

Prior to 1850, Christmas celebration was
"culturally and legally suppressed and thus, virtually non-existent. The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry." (Wikipedia)
Then, a radical transformation of Christmas began, and Unitarians were at the forefront in most of the transforming.

Christmas today means putting a tree indoors, and decorating it. That was a practice in Germany, brought to the United States in the early 1800s by the Unitarian minister Reverend Charles Follen.

Christmas means Old Ebenezeer Scrooge’s heart opens up to compassion and joy. In 1843 a Unitarian named Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol remains the most widely read-aloud book in the English-speaking world, and is theatrically performed in hundreds of venues around the country every year. Other popular Christmas tales such as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" are but re-workings of Charles Dickens' Unitarian gospel. Dickens’ tale of generosity, gratitude, and the joy of family gathering is fundamentally Unitarian.

Christmas means dashing through the snow, one-horse open sleighs, bells that jingle, and laughing, all the way. That’s the song “Jingle Bells,” by the Unitarian James Pierpont. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is by Unitarian Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. John Bowring, who gave us "Watchman Tell Us of the Night," and Noel Regney, who wrote “Do you hear what I hear?” were also Unitarians.

Christmas also means a focus on ending war and violence. “Peace on Earth, to all goodwill,” say the angels in the gospel of Luke. For most of the history of Christendom, Luke’s angels have been taken as referring to a private, personal peace. Few imagined that peace on earth actually meant we should stop killing each other.

Then, in 1849, with a war in Europe, and the US war with Mexico weighing on his mind, Unitarian Minister Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears wrote a carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” that made “peace on earth” about ending war.
"Beneath the angel strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong,
And man at war with man hears not
the love song which they bring,"
he decried.

His lyrics raised objections from a number of Christian conservatives of the time. They said, contemptuously, that Sears’ hymn was just the sort of thing you would expect of a Unitarian. They were right about that.

If Christmas season today is a time when our hopes turn to ending war and truly bringing peace on earth, it is because a Unitarian minister wrote a song inviting us to imagine the day,
"when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world give back the song
which now the angels sing."
This really is our holiday. From the Christmas tree, to the jingling bells, to the Scrooge story, to the message of peace on earth, Unitarians made Christmas what it is today.

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