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Friends (Quakers) and Christmas
by Bill Samuel
Originally published December 1, 1998 at Suite101.com
What do Friends (Quakers) think about Christmas? Do they celebrate it and, if so, how? To try to answer these questions, I did some research into Quaker sources and solicited comments and experiences from other Friends.
Testimony on Holy Days
In the major published sources readily available to me, I found no statement from any of the first generation of Friends explaining their testimony regarding "Christmas" and other days on the church calendar. However, I did find the following reference in the Journal of George Fox, often considered the founder of Quakerism:
When the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves I looked out poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money.
This quote is about his early years, before the Quaker period. The reference to "the time called Christmas" implies that it was so called by others, not himself. The main concern here seems to be about frivolous amusements, and his attitude at this early point in his life may well reflect his Puritan upbringing.
It seems the general consensus of those knowledgeable about Friends history that there was long a testimony against the celebration of special days. Friends schools remained open on Christmas day, and Friends in business were expected to keep their shops open. Their attitude on this is probably well reflected in the following 1993 statement by a tiny group of "Primitive Friends:"
As we hold that one day is no more holy than another, as all days are the gift of the most High, do we continue to maintain a firm Christian witness that our members do not join in any public fasts, feasts, so-called holy-days and religious festivals (such as times called "Christmas" and "Easter" by some); for though exterior observances of a similar kind were once authorised under the law, as shadows of things to come, yet they who come to Christ will we believe assuredly find that in him all shadows end.(from Queries & Advices also containing A Concise Account of our Beliefs and Tenets and A Statement of Faith issued by the Yearly Meeting of Friends in Christ)
Contemporary Quaker Views
Today, Quaker groups generally do not have a rigid testimony against their members observing Christmas or other special days. Many Friends churches and meetings have some special observance of Christmas. Practices vary widely.
Some Friends still do not celebrate Christmas as a matter of principle. Many are conflicted, wanting to hold up the testimony that each day is holy but also being drawn to special celebrations and joining with others in communal experiences that mark the season. Friends generally react strongly against the commercialism of the season, and endeavor to reflect the Quaker simplicity testimony in their observances. Like the young George Fox, many mark Christmas with special concern for those near and far who are living in poverty and/or despair.
In soliciting views and experiences of Friends in various Quaker forums, I succeeded in stimulating a lively dialogue and much sharing. I have obtained permission from a number of Friends to share what they wrote. You are invited to read Friends (Quakers) Christmas Experiences.
© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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