The piece gets its digs at atheists, as you would expect, but also shows that atheists were by far not the only nor the first nor the most far reaching in expressing negative opinions about Christmas celebrations.
The Saturday Essay
By Gerry Bowler
For 2,000 years, believers and nonbelievers alike have fought over the meaning and traditions of a repeatedly reinvented holiday
For most of the last two millennia, people have been arguing about Christmas—struggling to adopt it, abolish it, reform it, marginalize it, appropriate it or suppress it. The earliest Christians were at first indifferent to any sort of celebration. They were more interested in the imminent return of Jesus than in his obscure earthly origins. Only pagans, they told themselves, marked the birthday of their rulers or heroes.
But pressure from those who denied that the Christ had taken a physical body—or who denied that he had ever existed—prompted the Church to take the events of the Nativity more seriously. No sooner had the faithful decided to invent a Christmas festival than they were disagreeing about when it should be: Rome and Western Europe had decided on Dec. 25; the great eastern cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch fought a losing battle for Jan. 6.
The choice of a midwinter date created a new problem: how to keep the holiday free from the customs of the pagan celebrations that were going on at the same time. For centuries, the Church would rail against the greenery, gift-giving, drunkenness, dancing, cross-dressing and nighttime disorder of Saturnalia and the Kalends of January (the Roman New Year).
Some of these battles would be won (few of us mark Christmas anymore by dressing in animal skins), and some harmless practices, such as the use of candles and greenery, were sanctified and found a lasting place in the holiday.
For centuries, the lower clergy nurtured a number of bizarre customs in the spirit of turning the familiar social order upside down—an idea at the heart of the Christmas story. In the Feast of Fools, rowdy young clerics in medieval France would mock sacred ceremonies, play dice at the altar, caper about dressed as women or minstrels and stink up the church with the smoke of burning shoes. Popes and kings eventually outlawed such practices.
By 1500, Christmas was well-established as a beloved festival, a time of deep piety but also of sanctioned merrymaking. It was the season of charity and, in the figure of St. Nicholas, European children had a magical gift-bringer, an avatar of generosity. The Protestant Reformation soon engulfed the continent in religious controversy, however, and celebration of the Nativity became a victim.
In many countries, the abolition of the Catholic cult of saints drove St. Nicholas away, and Christmas itself disappeared in some places. The authorities in 16th-century Scotland arrested people for baking seasonal treats, offering hospitality to neighbors and, in the words of officials in Aberdeen, “playing, dancing and singing of filthy carols on Yule Day,” while ministers equated carol-singing
More at: Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/christmas-embattled-from-the-beginning-1482501600