Jason Zweig's argument rests on the work of Stephen Nissenbaum and Penne Restad, two authorities I've relied on more than once. On the strength of that I consider his argument sound, at least to the extent he argues Christmas went from a time of flamboyant excess in celebration to: “As soon as Santa Claus entered the picture,” says Prof. Nissenbaum, “people had to go shopping.”
Christmas was a lot different in the 1800s. In Boston, New York and Philadelphia, drunken gangs marauded through the streets. Not even the neighborhood watchmen could deter them. https://t.co/cnaqSTaV5q— Anthony DeRosa 🗽 (@Anthony) December 26, 2020
In the Apostolical times the Feast of the Nativity was not observed....It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25....The New Testament allows of no stated Holy-Day but the Lords-day...It was in compliance with the Pagan saturnalia that Christmas Holy-dayes were first invented. The manner of Christmas-keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ.
“If it had been the will of God that the several acts of Christ should have been celebrated with several solemnities, the Holy Ghost would have made known to us the day of his nativity, circumcision, presentation in the temple, baptism, transfiguration, and the like.” . . . . “This opinion of Christ’s nativity on the 25th day of December was bred at Rome.”
Into what stupendous height of more than pagan impiety...have we not now degenerated! [Christmas out to be] rather a day of mourning than rejoicing, [not a time spent in] amorous mixt, voluptuous, unchristian, that I say not pagan, dancing, to God's, to Christ's dishonour, religion's scandal, charities' shipwracke and sinne's advantage.
Christmas day is no religious day and hardly a holiday with them: New-year's day is perhaps a little, but only a little more so. For Twelfth-day, it is unknown; and the household private festivals of birthdays are almost universally passed by unsevered from the rest of the toilsome days devoted to the curse of labor.
After the first table [old Texas tradition my family carried on with in my childhood: the men ate first, then retired, and the women and children ate. Yeah, my wife was appalled by that, too, and it was long before we were married that she encountered it.] the men and the bigger boys built up a big fire in the pasture between the house and the front gate. Then, while the women stood on the front porch to watch, Uncle Charlie gave the little children firecrackers and showed them how to shoot them. He put a paper fuse against a live coal. When it had lighted he threw it away from the fire into the dark."Don't ever let one go off in your hand," he said, "And don't throw it close to nobody. Somebody might get hurt."While we went through the firecrackers he had given us, the men made a trip back to the kitchen. This time they brought the jug with them and set it in the back end of a wagon. They brought out more fireworks, and Monroe had the sack of powder in his coat pocket."Time for a roman candle," Uncle Charlie said.He took a long red roman candle and went to the fire."You all watch now," he said, "I'm gonna hold it like I was aiming to shoot the gate."
Uncle Charlie was not ready for the fun to be over. He went up the steps and across the front porch. Aunt Niece was standing in the door, with the lamplight behind her. He lifted her chin with his fingers and went on past her, to the chimney corner where he kept his double-barreled shotgun. Then he came out with the gun under his arm and a box of shells in his hand.Near the fire, he loaded both barrels and set the stock against his shoulder."You aiming at the gate?" Othal asked."You got to aim at something."He fired, and after the first blast we heard shot rattle against the gate."Got it first shot," Othal said, and ran for his own gun.In no time at all, five guns were blazing away at the gate, and the little children were running for hiding places under the house. I shivered at the sound, but felt safe, for their backs were to us and they were aiming at the gate.Then Othal came running around the house, loading and firing as he ran, and some of the others took after him. The women had run inside, but I could hear them telling the men to stop. Too scared to stay under the house, I crawled out and started for the door. In the darkness I can straight into Otha's knees, and he let a double-barreled blast go off right over my head, leaving a burning flash in my eyes and a ringing in my ears.
Uncle Charlie came in with a backstick for the fireplace. My grandmother was waiting for him."You ruint the gate," she said."I reckon we did."He laughed and the light in his blue eyes showed he was not sorry. She frowned and went out to the front porch.Aunt Niece came in, with a peeled orange in her hand."Christmas gift," he said to her.She went up to him and stuck a slice of orange between his teeth. They were both laughing without making a sound, and once he leaned over and kissed her."I had me some Christmas," he said.
Not so long ago, that story. It wasn't just in the 1800's that Christmas was a lot different.