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Not only did the Puritans not celebrate Thanksgiving, they firmly banned Christmas. (Spoiler alert: the Puritans did not celebrate Easter either.) The Puritans rejected Christmas as a pagan celebration, full of bawdy revelry and tainted by Catholic association. The Puritans believed celebrations like Christmas encouraged frivolous distractions instead of a serious quest for God. I can only image how the Puritans would have responded to Pious Petunia’s thoughtful reader’s question about how to manage the overwhelming kitsch and noise of Christmas. We may include a serious quest for God during advent, but frivolous distraction reaches epic levels during the Christmas season in the United States.

Winter can be long, isolating, and dark, depending on where you live. This poem by Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan living in the 17th century, captures the long dark nights without Christmas lights. She may not have celebrated Christmas, but she clearly understands the joy of the incarnation:

By Night when Others Soundly Slept
By Anne Bradstreet

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

5 Comments

  • Karen says:

    Thank you Rebecca… this touched my heart this morning!

  • Fred D Mueller says:

    Thanks for this lovely reminder of the beautiful side of Puritanism which the world does not know.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    Go Annie B! And extra points for referring to Psalm 56:8.

  • Mike Kugler says:

    I thought of two things reading this: Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas, and Counting Crow’s “Long December.” In my mind, they belong together. Thank you, especially for A.B.’s fine poem.

  • Helen Phillips says:

    This is wonderful. I’m teaching a two week class for on Christmas traditions, customs, etc. for Adult Discipleship at my church, Central Reformed, Grand Rapids, and we just spoke about the Puritans and Christmas yesterday.
    The poem is lovely, so thanks for sharing.

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