Norman Rockwell is without question one of the artists most responsible for cementing a certain nostalgic view of Christmas in the American consciousness. From his rosy-cheeked Santas to his cheery carolers and happy families engaged in yuletide preparations, Rockwell painted scene after scene of white, middle-class people enjoying one of Christianity's biggest holidays. And yet, while his work seems to assume a white, American, and Christian audience, Rockwell's own vision of America certainly had room for more than just WASPS. And he showed this in his series the Four Freedoms.
Freedom of Worship is the second painting in this series. This painting was created in the midst of World War II, articulating a freedom described by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a fundamental freedom that ought to be enjoyed everywhere. It was made into stamps to fund the war effort, and souvenir stamps can still be found (and makes for a perfect gift for your philatelist friends).
The Four Freedoms were printed in four consecutive weeks by the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. Each image was printed alongside an essay by a prominent thinker of the day. In the essay that accompanied Freedom of Worship, Will Durant articulates the importance of the First Amendment by writing about the two extremes–the implementation of a state religion by Japan and the secularization of Western European governments. Ironically, for Durant, freedom of worship and separation of church and state is our Christian duty.
The demographics of the United States have changed a lot since 1943 when Freedom of Worship was first published in the Saturday Evening Post. Eight in ten members of the Silent Generation, those born between 1928-1945, describe themselves as Christian while only half of millennials do. Four in ten millennials describe themselves as non-religious and one in ten identify with other faiths. But in the true spirit of capitalism, the prevalence of Christmas has not waned. The expansive definition of the contemporary holiday has its new iconography, including mascots like Santa Claus and his reindeer herd, evolving from the Catholic saint known for his generosity to the man located in every mall across America today. 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas, though only 13% characterize their observation of the holiday as religious. Traditions like ugly sweaters and gift giving are done as celebration of family, friendship, and generosity rather than the birth of Christ.
Rockwell’s later work, Golden Rule, inspired by the UN’s humanitarian vision, is perhaps a more resonant image of how we understand the freedom of religion today. Made in the 1960s as the mood of the country was changing, “Golden Rule” depicts people of different races, religions and ethnicities along with the universally applicable phrase, “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”
Freedom of religion is both a positive and negative freedom, meaning that we are able to worship as we please and to not worship if we choose. So for your holiday revelry, we present you a prayer-optional Norman Rockwell Christmas dinner of baked glazed ham, candied sweet potatoes, minted peas, Christmas crullers and plum pudding, adapted from "The Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook", for whatever kind of holiday celebration you choose to have this festive season.
Baked glazed ham
1 uncooked cured ham
1 cup of brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp dry mustard
- Place ham fat-side up on a rack in a roasting pan and insert meat thermometer in the thickest part of the ham.
- Bake uncovered in an oven preheated at 275 F for about 6 hours or until the internal temperature of the ham is 160 F.
- Remove from the oven and with a sharp knife, cut off the rind.
- Cut diagonal slashes across the fat side of the ham into diamond shapes and place cloves in the corners of the diamonds.
- Mix brown sugar, dry mustard, and a little ham fat from the roasting pan together and spread over the top of the ham.
- Turn the oven to 400 F and bake ham until the brown sugar forms a glaze.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
¼ cup butter
6 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled
¾ cup grape jam
⅛ tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp orange rind, silvered
- Melt butter in a large skillet and add sweet potatoes. Top with jam and sprinkle with allspice.
- Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Turn and cook for another 10 minutes, basting occasionally.
- Before serving, garnish with orange rind.
Note: Orange marmalade with 2 tbsp of honey can be substituted for grape jam.
1 10-oz package of frozen green peas
1 tsp of dried mint
1 tsp of sugar
Boiling salted water
1 tbsp of butter or margarine
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook peas, mint, and sugar in boiling salted water for 5-7 minutes until peas are tender. Drain
- Stir in butter, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.
⅓ cup sugar
⅔ cup butter or margarine, melted
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Grated rind of 1 lemon
3 tbsp of cream
Shortening for deep frying
Confectioner’s sugar for topping
- Beat eggs and sugar together until very light.
- Stir in butter, cardamom, and lemon rind. Add cream and flour. Dough will be quite buttery and easy to handle.
- Roll dough about ¼ in thick and cut into 4-in long, 1-in wide rectangles.
- Cut slits through the middle of the rectangles. Pull one corner through slit to make a knot or just twist to make a ribbon effect.
- Heat shortening to 360 F in skillet and fry crullers until lightly brown. Drain on paper to absorb excess fat. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.
1 loaf of day-old bread
½ pound suet, ground*
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups raisins
1 ¾ cups currants 1 tbsp crystallized ginger, minced
2 tsp ground allspice
¼ cup almonds, flakes
¾ cup brandy
Juice and rind of 2 oranges
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
¼ cup whipping cream
- Place bread into a food processor to make fine crumbs and place into a large mixing bowl.
- Add in prepared suet, flour, brown sugar, apple, raisins, currants, ginger, allspice, and almonds and mix well.
- Beat eggs in another bowl. Add brandy, juices, and rinds. Pour into crumb mixture and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Pack mixture into two 1-quart pudding molds. Cover with buttered waxed paper and foil.
- Tie securely what string and trim off excess paper and foil. Cover with pudding mold lid.
- Place in a steamer and pour boiling water into the steamer until water is halfway up the sides of the mold. Cover and steam for 6 hours, adding water to maintaining water level as necessary.
*To prepare suet, tear and discard the stringy membranes. Chop or grind in a food processor into small pieces.
Note: Suet may be substituted for equal parts vegetable shortening for a vegetarian option.
Additional resources about Norman Rockwell you may find interesting:
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- Durant, Will. “Freedom of Worship.” The Saturday Evening Post. Feb 27, 1943. https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2017/12/will-durants-freedom-worshi…
- Hyrnowski, Zach. “More Americans Celebrating Secular Christmas.” Gallup. Dec 20, 2019. https://news.gallup.com/poll/272378/americans-celebrating-secular-chris…
- “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Pew Research Center. Oct. 17, 2019. https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-cont….
- “Rockwell’s ‘Golden Rule’.” Norman Rockwell Museum. February 4, 2015. https://www.nrm.org/2014/02/golden_rule/