Thursday, December 21, 2017

How the Tractarians Changed Christmas

Charles Dickens' revival of Christmas concentrated on celebrations at home and in the city. The Oxford Movement, also called the Tractarian movement, influenced the liturgical celebration of the Christmas in the Church of England, according to this 1993 article in History Today by the then Anglican chaplain at Keble College, later Bishop Geoffrey Rowell:

Although Christmas was a time of festivity its church celebration in the nineteenth century owed much to the Oxford Movement. A significant feature of the concerns of the Tractarians was the revival and enrichment of the Prayer Book forms of service, and a proper observance of the seasons and festivals of the church calendar. It was no accident that John Keble's influential book of poems of 1827 entitled The Christian Year, providing verses and meditations on the Prayer Book services and on the Sundays and holy days observed by the Church of England. At St Saviour's, the church built by Dr Pusey in the slums of Leeds, a midnight Eucharist was celebrated on Christmas Eve in contrast to Leeds Parish Church where W.F. Hook had begun a midnight Eucharist on New Year's Eve, as an Anglican response to Methodist watch-night services. . . .

What began as part of the Catholic revival in the Church of England spread to other sections of Anglicanism, and indeed to other churches. In 1887 John Hunter, a notable Church of England minister in Glasgow pioneered the keeping of Christmas Day in the kirk. In 1875 a clerical journalist, the Reverend C.M. Davies, whose collected articles on the London religious scene are invaluable vignettes of church life, noted that Christmas decorations in churches and special Christmas observances were no longer a party badge of High Churchmanship.

This influence of the Oxford Movement extended to music, mostly through the work of John Mason Neale, who published Carols for Christmastide in 1853, while the popularity of the Nine Lessons and Carols grew through the latter part of the century, into the 20th and still today--as evidenced by the broadcast around the world of the service at King's College Cambridge.

As Rowell concludes:

In the course of the century, under the influence of the Oxford Movement’s concern for the better observance of Christian festivals, Christmas became more and more prominent. By the later part of the century cathedrals provided special services and musical events, and might have revived ancient special charities for the poor . . .

So it wasn't just Dickens!

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