Back in my college days, I got into an unexpectedly lively discussion with my then-fiancee about, of all things, whether we would tell our future children that there was a Santa Claus. Like most people, he was all for it. I had reservations. For one thing, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of deceiving my children, even if it was a playful, well-meaning deception. The other reason was my overall aversion to the commercialization of Christmas—all the emphasis on the material rather than the spiritual aspect of the season.
It is very difficult to be counter-cultural, especially when the culture involves wonderful-smelling trees and pretty ornaments and delicious cookies and dancing around to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and seeing the delight on your child’s face when he opens that perfect gift.
And yet, I really appreciate the perspective of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. Like a good woodworker, Fox wanted to strip away all the layers of old paint and varnish that he felt men had added to primitive Christianity over the centuries, uncovering the faith’s true essence. Among the practices that concerned him were the official church-directed designations of feasting, fasting, and holy days, including Christmas. The first-century followers of Jesus did not celebrate his birth. Indeed, it wasn’t until the end of the third century that church leaders decided to honor that event on December 25, a date that coincided with existing pagan festivals and made it easier to convince Roman subjects to adopt the empire’s official religion.
Fox was not a fan of man-made holidays, but that doesn’t mean we’re to live lives without joy. We can always send a card, or share a turkey with friends and family, or give a gift in the traditional Quaker way—when we feel led to do so, rather than when the calendar tells us to. Indeed, Fox encouraged Friends to treat every day as a holy day, honoring God in spirit and sharing our love for one another at all times.
That viewpoint is still my ideal. I may never stop baking pecan bars in mid-December, but I am grateful that our Meeting takes a low-key approach to its Christmas Eve celebration. No tree, no creche, minimal decorations—in the end, just a circle of Light and a silent night. Now that’s something I can tell my children about.