Cromwell’s Prohibition of Christmas

Happy Christmas!

The Christmas tree, the carolling, the feasting with friends and family – all this is the result of an amalgamation of cultural practices since even before the birth of Christ.

The Holy Family with Shepherds, circa 1616, by Jacob Jordaens.

This holiday has had its share of controversy over the past two thousand years, most notably (for me, anyway!) in the 1600s, but even today. In the opinion of perhaps a minority of modern-day Christians, the holiday of Christmas can be seen as an over-commercialised mockery of the true meaning of Christmas. Unfortunately, what some people regard as the true meaning lies in the inevitable grey area that so much in life falls into. What we celebrate on Christmas Day is rooted in pagan festivals, mainly that of Saturnalia, and it was this troublesome detail that caused a good deal of consternation in the 17th century…

When the Puritans were gaining power in England during the early Seventeenth century, so did their distaste and abhorrence for the practice of celebrating Christ’s birth with drunkenness and gluttony, and doing so on a pagan feast/festival day. They found it all highly offensive, and so, after the bloody, awful English Civil War, in which the Parliamentarians and Puritans came to power, the repression and the heavy-handed laws they brought forth saw not only the banning of the celebration of Christmas, but also the prohibition of theatres, makeup, sporting events, and other things. It is often written that if Puritan ministers or soldiers so much as smelled traditional Christmas meals being prepared, such as roast goose, etc, they could confiscate the items and the offender would be fined. No Christmas decorations were allowed either.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, 17th Century.

I thought the television mini-series, “The Devil’s Whore,” did a excellent job with the dialogue in terms of helping people understand the Puritan mindset that Christmas, having pagan origins, was “blasphemous.” One character states something to the effect of, “You blaspheme by giving the son of God a birthday.” This pretty much sums up what their ideology was like.

With the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, however, Christmas, and all the other popular diversions and innocent pastimes people used to enjoy, was allowed once more, creating great joy for many people rich and poor. Catholics and Protestants alike enjoyed celebrating Christmas, and so it has continued to this day, and a growing number of those who celebrate the holiday have no religion at all.

And, therefore, whether you are a devout or not, whether you choose to celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a peaceful, happy time today, and everyday. And anyway, aren’t we lucky to have the choice?!

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Hear ye! One thought — so far — on “Cromwell’s Prohibition of Christmas”:

  1. Lauren Hairston Collado

    Yes, we are absolutely lucky to have a choice! My husband and I do all the secular Christmas stuff. Puritans, avert your eyes! 🙂

    Speaking of puritanism, I’m finally going to get to see The Devil’s Whore (what took you so long, Netflix?). It’s called The Devil’s Mistress here in the US so it took a second look for me to figure out what the heck it was. I guess “whore” is too bad a word for the American market?

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