Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Plymouth Plantation -- take that, Christmas!

Around here, the Christmas decorations started going up in departments stores before Halloween. Radio station 94.1 switched to an all Christmas music programming schedule about a week and a half ago. So where did Thanksgiving go? I'm still talking about Pilgrims and Plymouth plantation over here.

So a quick reminder here to put things in historical perspective. As I understand it, the Pilgrims understood Days of Thanksgiving as special feasting days for games, celebrations and praising God for His abundant goodness -- hence the roots of our contemporary celebration complete with parades, feasting, and football. The Pilgrims weren't as dour as we paint them to be, but they were precise in what was to be observed. The leaders of a congregation could declare days of Thanksgiving (or days of Humiliation -- fasting and repentence) at just about any time. We commemorate the harvest Thanksgiving celebration, but there were other opportunities.

However, the Puritans frowned on extra-Biblical religious holidays. That makes pretty much the whole liturgical year out of bounds. Easter, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Pentecost -- forget it. The Pilgrims saw no warrant in Scripture for celebrating such holidays as religous festivals. It's not that they didn't honor the birth of Christ or the other events commemmorated -- rather they honored God so much they wouldn't worship in any way that they saw was not expressly commended by Scripture. This even included singing -- they would sing only psalms rather than other religous texts set to music.

And thus, on Christmas day 1620, the new colonists celebrated simply by beginning construction on their homes. On Christmas day 1621, Governor Bradford went to arouse the colonists to work. Several new colonists had arrived earlier in the fall, and their response to the summons to labor prompted this remembrance:

“but most of the new company excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them, if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he went with the rest, and left them; but on returning from work at noon he found them at play in the street, some pitching the bar, some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their games, and told them that it was against his conscience that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of the day a matter of devotion, let them remain in their houses; but there should be no gaming and reveling in the streets.” (95)

Don't get me wrong on this -- I'm not going so far as to say we shouldn't celebrate Christmas -- The Pilgrims were reacting against liturgical excesses of their day. However, it does prompt one to a little more self-examination, doesn't it....

Soli Deo Gloria