Christmas Celebrations Banned?

Imagine not being allowed to celebrate Christmas! This was however the case for a brief time in seventeenth-century England under Puritan rule.

Puritans, an extreme group of Protestants within the Church of England, thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in amending the doctrine and structure of the Church. Their aim was to purify their national church by eliminating every shred of Catholic influence. The Church of England was also to be cleansed of all liturgies, ceremony, or practices not found in Scripture. To Puritans, the Bible was the sole authority, and they believed it applied to every aspect of life. 

Puritans disapproved of Christmas, Easter, and other festival and saint days on the grounds that these holidays were invented by humankind and not prescribed by the Bible and, as such, could not be considered holy. Christmas was especially labelled as pagan and an unwelcome survival of Roman Catholic faith. Nowhere in the Bible was there a call to celebrate Christ’s birth in this manner. 

In the early 1640s, power passed from Charles I – later executed – to a largely Puritan parliament known as the ‘Long Parliament’. The Long Parliament forthwith forbade all church services and festivities relating to Christmas, condemning the celebration of Christmas altogether. Parliament sat on Christmas Day, and it was business as usual for everyone. All shops and markets had to stay open on December 25. Soldiers even went into private homes, looking for anyone celebrating on this day, and took away any festive food. Although there was rioting in the streets, Christmas remained suppressed. Instead, Puritans demanded stricter observance of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and legislated thus. It was not until the Restoration under Charles II in 1660, when the bleak Puritan Age ended, that Christmas festivities were restored with renewed exuberance and public vigour.

Meanwhile, Puritan settlers carried over their zealous piousness to America. Hence, Christmas celebrations were not permitted in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1856. In Boston, public schools held classes on Christmas Day until 1870, with all pupils not attending school on that day subject to punishment. But, with the wave of Irish and German immigrants to America in the late nineteenth century, the enthusiasm for the feast was revived and old traditions taken up again, spreading nationwide. 


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