©2008, Ramona K. Silipo. All rights reserved.
Friends (Quakers) have a testimony against holding special days (holidays), presumably based on the concept that each day is a blessing and that we should have one standard of behaviour for every day of the year. This means that many Friends do not celebrate holidays such as Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving (USA and Canada). However, many Friends do celebrate, albeit modestly in most cases. My home meeting in California, for instance, has a Christmas event presented by the children, followed by a pot luck meal. This year, there is carol singing each First Day for those who want to join in. And so on. As with all the testimonies, it is left to each person to discern what, if any, recognition of Christmas to express.
My experience, both before and after becoming a Friend, is that nothing in my personal or family Christmas traditions seems antithetical to living as a Quaker. As a matter of fact, I find that at Christmas time many people are more alert and open to answer that of God in everyone; and people are often more aware of their need to be generous, forgiving and patient with others. I see nothing negative in setting aside a specific time of day or year to stop and consider how one’s life might be more enlightened and enlightening.
My personal and family traditions are pretty simple: a nativity set from my childhood with candles lit each night, a tree decorated with homemade ornaments and old glass ones as well, inviting people with no family or friends in the area for dinner, and a Christmas Eve with closest friends at which we eat soup and bread for dinner, read Christmas stories and light candles to remember friends who have died during the year. (This began during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when we lost several friends each year. We’d stand around the table, all too aware that one or two of us would probably not be there the next Christmas. Thank God, we haven’t had to light any candles for many years now.)
Reading to each other and the children is a lovely bonding activity. Story telling is as ingrained in human history as music, and the stories of Christmas are always a joy to me. Stories are usually more symbolic than literal, so I don’t see that Christmas stories in the form of carols are a threat to good Quaker order in any way
For me, the joys in life are simple– friends, family, dogs (or other pets), good times, talking, laughing, music, theatre, art– nothing spectacular. At Christmas many of these joys are magnified and appreciated more. We all strive for the Quaker ideal of living in the Light every day, but, so far, I’ve not met anyone who’s achieved this ideal. Until we do, it seems not only appropriate but very positive to set aside times, like Christmas, to remember our best moments in life, reinforce long-cherished relationships, and create new opportunities to move forward toward the Light every day.