How New York City Invented the Holiday Season

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By Ronald J. Brown

Ronald_BrownThe celebration of a mid-winter holiday is as old as humanity. The sadness of death and desolation that surrounded our ancient ancestors mingled with hope that the days would lengthen, the sun would grow stronger, the trees would burst into bloom, the animals would give birth, and the crops would again ensure their survival. In keeping with the mid-winter celebrations of their neighbors, the three early Christian Churches in Rome, Greece, and Egypt, assigned Christ’s birth on or near December 25 already by the 4th Century.

But the Protestant Reformation began to question any celebration that was not Biblical. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Huss, Knox, and other reformers sought Biblical justification for saints, statues, indulgences, seven sacraments, nuns, monks, popes, and Christmas. If none was found, then they were relegated to the dustbin of Christian history. Scotch Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers flatly rejected Christ’s-mass and even forbade its celebration while the Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Dutch Reformed, and French Huguenots admitted that frail humans needed such holidays and it did little real harm even if there was no Biblical justification for it. The Dutch Reformed Church also allowed a sober celebration on December 25 but reserved the real fun for the December 6 feast of their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.

When the newly-founded Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was established in 1624 it literally threw the doors of immigration open to anyone willing to work and defend the colony from Indian, English, French, and even Spanish attacks. Soon the great Christmas controversy that divided Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and Protestants, filled the streets and villages of the Dutch colony.

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