Today, most Quakers celebrate Christmas with as much enthusiasm as any other Christians. It was not always so. Early Quakers aimed for simplicity and did not mark festivities. Every day was considered sacred – including Christmas Day, which was passed without celebration. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, spent Christmas giving money to ‘poor widows’ and frowned upon others who ‘were feasting and sporting themselves’.
By the end of the nineteenth century, these strictures were relaxed and few, if any, living Quakers in Ireland would remember anything other than a Christmas replete with worship, family and food. Many Quakers still, however, favour low-key festivities and eschew the ‘commercial materialism’ and consumerist aspects of the modern-day Christmas. Today, Quakers gather for quiet, reflective worship on Christmas Day followed by a family meal.
The Christmas activities of Belfast Quakers have reflected this gradual shift. In 2018 the South Belfast Quakers held their first ever Christmas Craft Fair, with all proceeds donated to support the work of the Quaker Service. This money helped to provide Christmas dinners at the Quaker Cottage for all the families currently attending – including Santa visits, presents and outings to the Christmas Market. Local Quakers also arranged ‘75 very generous food hampers’ given ‘to those who needed support the most’.