And it was on this basis that the Unitarians transformedrnChristmas into something that both hberals and evangehcalsrncould enjoy—a clear departure from the Puritan past. By 1842,rna new interpretaHon of the holiday was already in place:rnI have always thought of Christmas hme, when it hasrncome round—apart from the veneration due to its sacredrnname and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apartrnfrom that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable,rnpleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendarrnof the year, when men and women seem by one consentrnto open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think ofrnpeople below them as if they really were fellow-passengersrnto the grave, and not anotlier race of creahires boundrnon other journeys. And therefore, uncle, tliough it hasrnnever put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believernthat it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say,rnGod bless it!rnBy the time that Charles Dickens, a Unitarian, put these wordsrninto the mouth of the nephew of Ebeneezer Scrooge, they rangrntnie in the minds of his readers. It is “salvation by character” —rnone of James Freeman Clarke’s “Five Points of Unitarianismrnpenned”—that both saves Scrooge and transfomis Christmas.rnUnitarians of Clarke’s ilk taught that man needs religion torninspire faith in “things unseen and eternal, to give him the hopernof continued existence.” The new architects of Christinas borrowedrnimages from Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican tiaditionsrnand stripped them of their incamational value: candles,rnbells, even the Christmas tiee. iTiongh Cerman Lutherans andrnCatholics had been decorating Christmas tiees in New Yorkrnand Pennsylvania since they first arrived in the colonies, it wasrnCharles Follen, a German immigrant who became both a Unitarianrnand the first professor of Cierman at Harvard, who activelyrnpopularized the Christmas tree in 1832 among Unitarians inrnNew England. “It really looked beautiful,” one guest observed.rn”The room seemed in a blaze, and the ornaments were so wellrnhung on that no accident happened, except that one doll’s petticoatrncaught fire.” Follen, an ardent abolitionist, liked the idearnof the tree, because it inspired wonder, while its incamationalrnsymbolism—tire evergreen, representing eternal life; the lightsrnpointing to the Light of the World; the tiee itself, reminding usrnof the Tree on which the Christ Child would ultimatelyrnhang—is evident only to those who are taught.rnClement Moore, an Anglican convert to Unitarianism,rnpenned the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” in 1822, tiansformingrnthe memory of the charitable bishop from Asia Minorrninto the myth of an old man who works his elfen magic everyrnChristmas Eve, bringing gifts to good boys and girls. Whateverrnhis intentions, the effect has been long-lasting in America:rnWhat once was a real person who perfonned acts of charity as arnresponse to the redemptive work of Christ (someone genuinelyrnworth imitating) became an unreal, mythic figure, who inspiresrnus to be nice to one anotiier.rnUnitarians quickly created a corpus of Christmas carols thatrnreplaced the rich, incamational hymnody of Christmasrnpast. They were uncomfortable with the bold lines of CharlesrnWesley: “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see / Hail the IncamaternDeity” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). Henry WadsworthrnLongfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” echoed thernsterile line “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” in the ears of hisrnUnitarian brothers fighting amidst “the canons thund’ring in thernSouth.” In 1857, John Pierpont, a Unitarian minister, wrote therndelightfril “Jingle Bells” as a Christinas carol, celebrating thernjoys of the one-horse open sleigh and laughter, minus the greatestrnmotivation for joy and revelry. And the Reverend Sears paintedrnChristmas using gnostic imagery of “angels bending near thernearth to touch their harps of gold” and singing about “peace.”rnThese Unitarian linages of Christmas cheer, tiansmitted tornthe 20tii centiiry by evangelicals and liberals—and Lutherans,rnCatholics, Presbyterians, and Anglicans under their influencern(as well as the likes of Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and BobrnHope)—are at best sentimental, and at worst, anti-incarnational,rnwhich makes it interesting to ponder why the promoters ofrnKwanza, Hanukkah, and Ramadan are so put off by the remainingrnChristinas symbols in popular American culhirc. Othersrnhave reacted to the Unitarianization of Christmas in differentrnways. Some modem liberals invoke the spirit of “Band-Aid”rnand tiansfonn Christinas into a time to focus on solving worldrnhunger, giving to charity, and working in soup kitchens. Somernevangelicals emphasize the birth of Christ insofar as it providesrnan opporhmity to evoke more conversion experiences. One localrnmegachurch here in Rockford produced its own version ofrnA Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge is taken on a journey intornthe past to see all of the opportunities he had to accept Christ asrnhis personal savior. Some conservatives have rehirned to thernrigorous hatied of Christinas that was once unique to the Puritans,rnonly fliey call it “pagan” instead of “popish,” pointing outrnflic origins of Sahimalia and the yule log.rnMore emphasis on generic “peace and goodwill” will, norndoubt, flood the cnlhire at Christinas during this, tire real 1984,rnas images of the World Trade Center bombing are commingledrnwith shots of bombs dropping on Kabul and star-stiiddedrngalas with, perhaps, the Backstreet Boys singing “Do TheyrnKnow It’s Christmas?” (Osama bin Laden makes a very nicernGoldstein.) But a grave danger lies in absorbing Christmasrnsymbols while ignoring that which is signified by them. Campaignsrnto “put Christ back into Christinas” arc not only vain,rnthey are destiuctive—ifwe leave out riie Incarnation. Wlien werncelebrate the coming of Christ-the-mere-moral-example, wernare (according to St. John’s First Epistle) celebrating the spirit ofrnAntichrist. When we celebrate the Christ-who-enables-ourconversion-rnexperience, ignoring the Incarnation, we also ignorernthe very means by which genuine Christian conversionrnoccurs: through the infinite merits and suffering of the Onernwho must needs be frilly God and frdly Man.rnThe antidote for the American Unitarian Christmas is not,rnas some suggest, to do away with Christinas altogether. Americarnneeds to rediscover the mystery of flie Incarnation and incamational,rnsacramental Christianity—a robust retimi to the collectivernwisdom of Christianity past. Unitarians and evangelicalsrn(as well as the older tiaditions, which are so much under thernsway of both) must look for inspiration beyond the AmericanrnPuritan experience if they are to survive at all during these tioubledrntimes. There, they will also rediscover flie true inspirationrnfor Christmas and its creches, trees, and bells. They will understandrnwhy we should kill the fatted calf and work in a souprnkitchen. They will once again sing “Hodie Christus natus est”rnand “In dulci juhilo.” They might even sing “Jingle Bells” forrnthe right reasons. And, facing the possibility of terrorist attacks,rnanflirax, or even Wodd War III, they can, thanks to the incarnationalrnhope offered by Christmas, “sleep in heavenly peace.”rn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn