Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Stool-Ball Day to All, And to All A Good Night

The modern controversies over “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas” and “Seasons Greatings” have reached a fever pitch. In Sacramento, as many as 50 protesters visited a local Wal Mart in order to protest the store’s failure to use the term “Christmas” in their retail practices - yes, “Christmas” that 12th century expression derived from the Roman Catholic tradition of mass/transubstantiation - i.e. “Christ’s Mass,” not necessarily a favorite expression for every Protestant on this planet. One of the protestors was pastor Dick Otterstad, of the Church of the Divide, who donned a Santa Claus costume and greeted shoppers with the message: “Don't forget about the meaning of Christmas.” Yes, you read that correctly, a pastor in a Santa Claus constume with a “Merry Christmas” sign...


...now that’s really nailing down the “reason for the season.”


All this vocabulary-venom is poisoning the true message of the Savior, and it leads non-Christians to believe that Christianity is all about retail marketing and overweight men with white beards in their red pajamas. Brethren - we need to rise above it all and make sure that we communicate Christ to others - on December 24th, 25th, 26th... that is, on every day of the year.


But I truly wonder how the modern day Christmas Combatants would fair with the likes of Mr. William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrim settlers of the Plymouth Colony (who later became the Governor of the Plymouth Colony). Actually, I don’t think that most people today would have enjoyed spending “Thanksgiving” Day or “Christmas” Day with him or most of those early Pilgrims. To the Puritans, Christmas was a pagan celebration that was grounded in secular tradition and thus represented the remnants of the church of England, more than anything else. And with this, the tradition of Christmas was often filled with partying, drinking and reveling of all sorts. For the believers in Plymought Colony, December 25th was just another day, unless of course it fell on the Sabbath - otherwise, it was simply a work day. The following excerpt from Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation [1620-1647]” helps us to see the early Americans’ view of “Christmas”:


“And herewith I shall end this year. Only I shall remember one passage more, rather of mirth than of weight. On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most of this new company excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, he found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their impliments and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it matter of devotion, let them keep their houses; but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.”

By the way, pitching the bar and stool-ball were both common games in their day. Pitching the bar is thought to have consisted of throwing a stick in some fasion, and stool-ball incorporated the use of a milkmaid’s stool and some rocks - based upon an old game enjoyed by young milkmaids who threw rocks at each others’ stools in order to knock them down; the defensive object of the game was to prevent your opponent’s rock from hitting your stool - using your bare hand...well, that sounds like a lot of fun.


Now an observant reader may be thinking many thoughts after such a quote - perhaps regarding Puritan work ethics or sabbatarianism; possibly even how very bored those milkmaids must have been. However, my only focus in this reference concerns the exhortation that was made to those who insisted that they observe Christmas, which was this: if, for conscience sake, you wish to reflect on Christ this day, then do reflect on Christ as a matter of devotion to Him instead of using this time as an opportunity for the flesh. These Christmas celebrants apparently were newcomers to the colony (from England) and may not have been believers; and thus their desire for Christmas was not centered on Christ, but instead they desired to use their holiday as an opportunity to play stool-ball. In some way, these Christmas game players of the past are like many in our culture today. In the modern era, many demand their right for a Christmas holiday, but then they only fill their day with games and activities which have little or nothing to do with Christ Himself.


It would be like a young person who anticipates Christmas mainly because he expects to get that expensive X-Box game, so that he can play...stool-ball on it for hours without end...


...or something like that.


As the Apostle Paul often said: me genetai - may it never be.


P.S. After the last two posts - please know that I am not trying to abandon the expressions “Merry Christmas” or even “happy holidays” - I’m just advising people to have wisdom regarding their seasonal dogmatics: More will be said about these phrases later.


And just to put others at ease, we do have a Christmas Tree in our living room; however this one has been somewhat reformed - even sanctified in a way. More on that later as well...