The Christmas holiday did not hold much significance to Southern Baptists until after the Civil War.
Although people in the South had a long tradition of celebrating Christmas as popular event to honor the birth of Christ, Southern Baptists gave little significance to the celebration. Christmas was not recognized as a special day of worship in any historic Baptist confessions, according to sources.
To some Baptist ministers, the holiday represented worldliness and even paganism. Some modern day Baptists cite that the New Testament does not “command us to celebrate a festival commemorating the nativity,” according to The Baptist Press.
However, Southerners made Christmas a holiday in states like Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana in the 1830s, while Northern states hesitated. Boston didn’t adopt Christmas until 1856, according to a report. Southern communities enthusiastically celebrated the holiday with unique customs.
They used decorations that were green in nature, like mistletoe, holly and evergreens. They consumed pork and set off fireworks, fired guns and had bonfires.
Baptists back then may have diminished the importance of these celebrations in church, but that didn’t stop them from joining their Southern communities in the celebrations.
Due to the growing popularity of Christmas during the Victorian Era, Southern Baptists began to incorporate Christmas celebrations into their sermons and church services. Churches sang Christmas carols, displayed nativity plays and other holiday events which were popular amongst children.
There were also sermons based on the accounts of Matthew and Luke of the birth and early childhood of Jesus. This was used as a method to declare the Gospel and teach the doctrine to all ages, according to sources.
A missionary, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon also helped Southern Baptists embrace Christmas. She wrote a letter in 1887 to the Foreign Mission Journal, recommending that Baptist women put aside a season of prayer and giving to international missions. She wanted the week before Christmas to be selected.
In 1888, the Woman’s Missionary Union began to implement Lottie Moon’s vision. They began collecting a Christmas offering through women in Baptist churches. By 1889, “Christmas envelopes” were being handed out and the Foreign Mission Board acknowledged it as Christmas literature in 1897.
Soon, the Baptist church embraced the Christmas offerings and made it respectable to incorporate more Christmas themes in their church.
The Christmas offering was renamed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering after Moon’s death. In the early 20th century, Baptists promoted the foreign missions to go along with other activities to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Soon, they joined other Christian groups in America that celebrated Christmas in the church. They implemented music, holiday events, Christian-themed sermons that began after Thanksgiving, and the giving of gifts and candy to children in Sunday school programs.