A few years ago GARRISON KEILLOR of the Prairie Home Companion ticked off some of his most devoted fans when he chastized Unitarians for their selection of gender-neutral language for Christmas hymns. He admonished them to “lay off” and leave the Christian holiday of Christmas alone, it’s “ours”, he whined.
I think Garrison had his tongue firmly planted in cheek but I know many Unitarians were offended. Unitarians have fine senses of humor but sometimes they feel besieged in a nation of born-again yahoos who like to proclaim, “go back to where you belong, America belongs to us Yahoos”.
Fact is there were very few yahoos in the Continental Congress or in the Constitutional Convention. There were many Unitarians, Deists and assorted free-thinkers. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine would never be accepted into a born-again congregation today. If anything, America was created by Unitarians and friends, Born-Again Yahoos enjoy their heritage today.
Nevertheless, the Unitarians were then a very Christian denomination and they have as much claim, if not more, to Christmas as other Christians.
What would Christmas be without Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”? Dickens was a Unitarian.
Christmas in America requires Christmas trees. The Christmas tree was a German innovation. Guess who brought it to America? Charles Follen, a Unitarian.
What do we sing during the Christmas holidays? “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “Jingle Bells” were all written by Unitarians.
Edmund Sears, the Unitarian who wrote “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, was criticized by the Christian Fundamentalists of his day who scorned the peace-nik message of the hymn. Partially inspired by the American War in Mexico, Sears did intend an antiwar message.
“T’was the Night Before Christmas” is a staple of the holiday. It too was said to be written by a Unitarian (although this is disputed, Clement Moore was the son of an Episcopalian minister and a member of an Episcopal Church, he may have been one of the many Unitarians closeted in the Episcopal Church).
The Born-Again Forebears, the Pilgrims and Puritans, didn’t like Christmas, people had too much fun. It was banned by God’s people in the colonies. The day became a public holiday only in 1870 and the campaign for its recognition was initiated by Unitarians as early as 1800.
Sorry, Garrison, Unitarians aren’t taking YOUR Christmas away, they are sharing THEIR Christmas with you.