Quakers believe every day is sacred, that we celebrate Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection all the time, not just at Christmas and Easter. That said, many Friends take comfort in the year-end focus on the Nativity. “To think of that baby, in particular, being born in that stable is a marvel to me,” Chloe Schwenke tells us. “It’s a true spiritual gift, and I carry that with me always.”
We spoke with several Friends about the significance of this holiday season, and though they respect early Quakers’ insistence on recognizing God’s presence in our lives consistently throughout the year, they also felt a desire to acknowledge the singularity of the son of God coming to this world as a human child, born at the margins of society. In the words of Cherice Bock, “As we practice Christmas in that way, of remembering who we are and who God is in our lives, it can be really powerful.”
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Faith Kelley: It is, I think for me, important to my spiritual life to have times and seasons to remember particular parts of our experience of God. So for me Christmas is important because it’s a remembrance of Jesus’ birth and that love of God poured out.
Do Quakers Celebrate Christmas?
Zac Dutton: I think when we ask whether Quakers celebrate Christmas we have to first think about the fact that historically Quakers didn’t celebrate any holidays at all.
Faith Kelley: Quaker understanding is that everyday is sacred; that God made every da, and so we are celebrating Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection all the time, not just on Christmas or Easter or, you know, those sorts of periods that the Church has set aside for celebration.
Tom Hamm: In 17th-century England the greatest holidays of the year were set aside by the government as days of public prayer and thanksgiving, either to thank God for some military victory or deliverance from the plague or whatever good thing had happened, or to pray God to avert whatever disaster might be impending at that time. Friends had no use for this idea that certain days of the year should be set aside as holier than any others, and so Friends scrupulously refused to observe them.
Cherice Bock: But in our time I think it’s important for us to ask ourselves: Are those testimonies still important to us? Is it still important to us to say we reject all holidays because then we aren’t noticing God present in our everyday lives? I feel like in a lot of ways as Quakers we’ve lost the ability to have a kind of rhythm of the seasons and of our lives going along this pattern that we can notice and remember God in our everyday lives, so having these moments and these seasons that we come back to each year as a ritual reminder of, “Yeah, I’m really grateful that God is present in this world,” and if you’re somebody that believes in Jesus, “I’m really grateful that Jesus came to be present on Earth in that form, and to live the life that he did.” And so I think as we practice Christmas in that way, of remembering who we are and who God is in our lives, it can be really powerful.
A Focus on Jesus Christ
John Moorman: I think we have to celebrate it with the understanding that the gifts and everything else are not the thing; the thing is that Christ came to this Earth to live with us, to understand our ways, and then to teach, and he left his body and he came back, and he is with us now.
Zac Dutton: I also, on a theological note, really enjoy the idea that Jesus both was born and died in a very low status way and if he had some good things to say, those good things being grounded in the low status of society.
Drew Elizarde-Miller: The story of Christmas is really about a family that was undocumented that wasn’t safe where it was living and was looking for refuge. So to me, when I celebrate Christmas, you know, it’s not– Is the oppression of people to the extent that they are forced to be born among animals, is that something to celebrate? Not really! But is the reality of a God who’s poor, who is amongst human beings? Is that something to celebrate? Yes, I think so.
Chloe Schwenke: I feel the sense of the marginalization of Jesus as a person in poverty that had to be born in a stable. I mean, we romanticize the stable but I like to sit with the stable; I like to think about how harsh that environment is and that yet even still that was the very best that they could come up with. There’s the whole environment of his birth and the context, all of that. The fact that somebody could be that poor, that humble, and come into the world in the antithesis of power and yet be a person who’s life and journey and words and sharing have been so influential; I find that remarkable. I love the Christmas story and it just moves me immensely. To think of that baby, in particular, being born in that stable is a marvel to me. It’s a true spiritual gift, and I carry that with me always.
- 1) Do you celebrate Christmas? Why or why not?
- 2) Should modern Quakers celebrate holidays?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.