Friday, December 23, 2005

Twenty-fifth of Twelth Month

Happy Grey Day, Quaker Friend.
Happy Day unmark'd
Happy Day-after-yesterday Day-before-tomorrow

Happy Day not named for any pagan god.
Happy Day no more holy than any other day.
Happy Day not set apart.
Happy Day when neither feast nor fast is commanded or coerced.
Happy Day that God has made.

In praise of Him whose birthday Always Is,
Rejoice Rejoice

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Blogger Leila M. said...

fascinating poem, dear. Question- as to the first line in the 2nd stanza (no day after a pagan god, etc)-- does it mean quakers don't do xmas? I'm curious to hear more.

9:12 PM, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm delighted to have a comment (and question) from Leila m., the creater of the Sister Scorpion blog. I wish I could give a more definite and less wishy-washy answer to the question.

The founders of Quakerism in the 17th century objected to both the religious and secular celebration of Christmas. In part this was based on a theology that said God in Christ had transcended and put an end to the need for all ritualistic and outward approaches to God, including the "keeping of days". These early Friends believed that continued observation of holy days was basically a form of paganism in Christian disguise and/or a form of Jewish religious practice that had been valid in its time but was no longer necessary in the "new covenant". Friends weren't the only Christians to take this stand. Some Puritans, whose theology and practice was quite different from Quakerism in most respects, nevertheless took a similar stand of rejecting Christmas. I understand that Puritans in Massachusetts went so far at one point as to levy fines on anyone celebrating the holiday. (As far as I know, Quakers were never guilty of this particular form of persecution, even when they were in charge of the government in Pennsylvania, because they generally thought people should be free to practice their own religious beliefs and not be bound by Quaker beliefs that they didn't share.)

Today the picture is a lot more complicated. I think most Quakers would still say that the "day called Christmas" is no more holy than any other day, but few would take a hardline against joining in the wider cultural celebration. We have become somewhat acculturated and less inclined to risk seeming dour and scroogey. In some meetings where Christmas is still downplayed or avoided, it may be for reasons that are pretty much the opposite of early Friends' reasons. The early Friends thought it was too worldly, pagan and un-Christian. Some modern Friends think it is too narrow, exclusive, and Christian.

In my meeting, the First-Day school children sing Christmas songs to us one Sunday in December after our Meeting for Worship. I welcome this as a sign of increasing oppenness to our rootedness in Christian faith, while slightly regretting it as a compromise with the more "wordly" expression of that faith in a wider culture that would rather celebrate Jesus' birthday than live by Jesus' teachings.

In the poem I more or less ignore the contemporary realities of how Friends actually observe the day and make reference to what I would personally consider a more "truly Quaker" stance.

11:30 AM, December 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delightful poem. I manage to hold at my center essentially what you illustrate in your delightful poem while simultaneously excusing to myself the sending of gifts to those I know will be sending them to me. I cannot bring myself to force others to subtract me from a holiday in which they wish to include me. The best I can manage, which still ends up seeming "scroogey" is to not decorate or have any particular observance on the actual day, and to politely return every "Merry Christmas" with "And to you."

9:45 PM, December 26, 2005  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Next day that some call Halloween, a certain plain Quaker maid, now residing in Cambridge, is going to have to be inticed to come to New York with her "Doo Wop Vampire" fangs and bite you on the neck! ( In a Friendly manner mind you )

Happy day between all the days that Quakers get all conflicted over... Thine in the light of something or other...

6:33 PM, December 27, 2005  
Blogger Leila M. said...

Thanks, Rich, for your answer, I wasn't aware of that before in Quakerism (is it an -ism? I call me being a shia as shiism...)

I knew Puritans didn't do it (Oy, I'm descended from two of them-- the Aldens, specifically), but what's interesting is that they continued the practise of pre-christian harvest festivals (which is now called thanksgiving). Odd, no?

As for Quakerism-- would you consider it to be more esoteric, then? As there seems to be a bit of a distance when viewing exoteric ritual and all. Is it at all antinomian?

Thanks, see I'm bugging you, but I'm curious (I have a few Quaker ancestors, and I figured it'd put their lives in perspective and all)

Thanks! Hey, maybe you can make it a post,, it'd be very informative!

5:05 PM, December 28, 2005  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Leila asks some good questions.

I think I'll take up her suggestion and answer them in a separate post. (not today, though).

It feels good to be responding to questions from someone not a fellow-Quaker. So much Quaker blogging seems like "preaching to the (silent) choir".

- - Rich

6:24 PM, December 28, 2005  

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