Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Unitarian Christmas

As I've been learning UU history, one of the surprises has been how much Unitarians contributed to the traditions of Christmas in America. Unitarians wrote "Jingle Bells" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear". A Unitarian brought the decorated-Christmas-tree tradition to New England. And then there's Charles Dickens, who was so impressed with Channing and Emerson during his American tour that he went home and joined a Unitarian church there.

My December online column for UU World promotes the view that this is more than just a collection of did-you-know items. Christmas got substantially re-imagined in the 19th century, and Unitarians were right in the middle of it. What had been a sectarian birthday-of-the-Christian-savior (with some pagan holdover traditions) became a holiday about universal values like peace, compassion, and renewing the connection to family and friends. And not until then did Christmas really take off as a holiday, surpassing Easter to become "the most wonderful time of the year."

Dickens' A Christmas Carol is an obvious big factor here, but also look at Edmund Sears' "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear". The interesting question is: What came upon a midnight clear? Not the birth of Jesus, but the song of the angels: "Peace on the Earth, good will to men." That's a universal message, not a sectarian Christian message.

The lesson I draw from all this is that UUs shouldn't be shy about celebrating Christmas. It's our holiday as much as anybody else's; we did a lot to make it what it is.

I wanted to put these ideas across in some cute, non-preachy package, so I wrote the column as a tongue-in-cheek present-day Christmas Carol, where a UU learns the true meaning of a Unitarian Christmas. (My favorite character in this is Marley, a humanist who is clearly embarrassed to be a ghost. In Dickens it's Scrooge who is in denial about Marley's ghostliness, but in my version it's Marley.)

Anyway, UU World's site doesn't have a comment feature, so feel free to leave comments here.


fausto said...

I loved it! And I forwarded it to a friend who is a cradle UU like myself, who loved it too. In her family they have a tradition of each person around the table reading a reflection over Christmas Eve dinner, and your Christmas Carol will be hers this year!

And I just found out yesterday, thanks to our UU blogging colleage serenityhome, that "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written by UUs as well.

Kari said...

I LOVED it. LOVED IT! I'm a Religious Educator, and I posted a link to your piece on the blog I write for the families in my congregation.


The families loved it too.

My "birthright" UU children loved it. And, my dear anti-religion husband loved it. That's a big deal.

It's a great way to teach us all about hour history.

ogre said...

loved it