YOU THINK the Grinch had a bad attitude toward Christmas? He had nothing on Increase Mather, one of colonial Boston's most celebrated Puritan clergyman.
In 1687, Mather published a blistering attack on the observance of Christmas. The holiday "savors of superstition," he seethed, and the way people celebrated it was "highly dishonorable to the name of Christ." There was nothing to connect the birth of Jesus to December 25, Mather insisted, nor any Biblical authority for making a festival out of the Nativity. Christmas was nothing but the old pagan festival of Saturnalia, which had been co-opted by the church in Rome; far from being imbued with holiness, the holiday season was "consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, [and] in mad Mirth."
Mather was no solitary crank, railing like Ebenezer Scrooge against a holiday everyone else embraced. He was an influential and learned New England minister, devoted to his Puritan faith. . . .