American History · english history · history

When Christmas was Banned…

The holidays this year have been a struggle. Many did not even expect the holidays would have been affected when the pandemic started in March . Gatherings will be smaller or over video chats and the holidays will not feel like the big event that they have usually been. Yet, it also gives us sometime time to focus on the things we are grateful for. Christmas could never truly be cancelled, right?

Well, actually, Christmas has been banned in previous centuries. It was banned in both the United Kingdom and early America. In 1647, Parliament decreed that Christmas was no longer considered a feast day or a holiday. This was under the rule of Parliament/Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who was placed in power as a result of the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I. This regicide brought the Puritans (some of the most extreme Protestants) to the forefront of politics. Puritans believed that the whole celebration and overindulgence of the season was wrong. To them, there was nothing in the bible that stated there should be a celebration like this on December 25. In fact, the date December 25 originates from a pagan festival (the date of the winter solstice) which was just adapted to the Christian rhetoric during the early medieval era. The bible was the word for the Puritans and they had a strict adherence to it. Christmas should be like any ordinary day. There would be no large feastings, merry making, rowdy behavior, drinking to excess, decorations (idols), or any other “sinful” activities. They also disliked these traditions as they felt that the Catholic influence was still too strong on the Church of England.

Oliver Cromwell | eHISTORY
Oliver Cromwell

Shops/taverns/inns were forced to stay open on Christmas day, it was illegal to attend a specific Christmas service, singing carols was forbidden and Christmas food/decorations were seized if they were found. Actual soldiers were sent to break up these large gatherings and these services. Parliament even met that day and continued on as usual. Prior to this ban, Christmas was celebrated similarly to how it was today. People had the day off, families would travel and get together, presents were given, and decorations were made. It was also a time for leisure for the working class and it was an opportunity to overindulge in foods, alcohol, romance, etc. Some of these celebrations when on for 12 more days after Christmas. Yet, as the Puritan faith began to become more popular, this was looked upon as sinful, disgraceful, and very similar to Catholicism (which was a stigma they had been working so hard to remove ). It was not until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 with Charles II that Christmas was “unbanned”.

Medieval Festive Facts: How Was Christmas Celebrated In The Past? -  HistoryExtra
Christmas Celebrations

I had heard about the banning of Christmas in England before I started my research, yet I did not know it was also banned in early America (New England to be specific). Puritans had also settled in the colonies in order to achieve the religious freedom that they desired. In 1659, the government of the Massachusetts Bay colony banned Christmas. Again, they felt the celebration of Christmas was a distraction from the true word of God and that it was sinful. This feeling was so strong that it really was not until the 1840s that Christmas, as a holiday, was universally accepted in New England. People who were caught taking the day off were sent back to work and those found participating in such activities were fined. The fine was even larger for those found gambling.

Yet, laws were made to be broken. As you might imagine, many were not happy with the new rules in either country. In England, Pro-Christmas riots began to occur. The most famous occurred in Canterbury where crowds of people began to damage the shops that had opened on Christmas day which then snowballed into them taking control of the entire city. This actually led to a larger rebellion against the new government (under Cromwell) in 1648. In 1647, there was a riot on Christmas day which led to a protestor getting killed. He became a symbol that Parliament had “killed” Christmas itself.

In New England, many people were attempting to celebrate under the radar, which is why fines were imposed for these activities. I also read about a particular group, the Boston Anticks, who would go around each Christmas and perform bawdy shows (especially in wealthy homes) for money. This group was apparently very annoying and very disruptive, yet were hard to identify because they were disguised. It was obvious they would perform these dramatic scenes on the “banned” Christmas day for more attention and, likely, profit.

When Massachusetts Banned Christmas - HISTORY

Yet, these bans actually helped to form the Christmas we know today and actually made the event more popular. With inns, bars, and taverns forced to stay open, the holiday actual became more social. Additionally, after the bans, the celebration of Christmas became more mixed with the religious and the secular. Charity became very important (especially in the Victorian era). Christmas became a time to give to the less fortunate. Those who did not have a family to spend time with or a feast to partake in.

Worth Reviving - Scrooge | The Movie Guys
Scrooge, Albert Finney , 1970

This Christmas will be difficult, but it is a time to be thankful for those in your life. I think this year we have learned that we take a lot for granted in our daily lives. We will just have to be creative and find different ways to celebrate , just like those who were affected by these Christmas bans.

Thank you again all for supporting my blog. I cannot wait to continue writing into the new year!

Sources:

https://www.historyextra.com/period/stuart/no-christmas-under-cromwell-the-puritan-assault-on-christmas-during-the-1640s-and-1650s/

http://www.olivercromwell.org/faqs4.htm

Christmas in Early New England, 1620-1820: Puritanism, Popular Culture, and the Printed Word by STEPHEN W. NISSENBAUM, 1996

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/christmas-19th-century-america

https://www.history.com/news/when-massachusetts-banned-christmas

New England Living Today, ” How the Puritans Banned Christmas,” by Heather Tourgee • December 19, 2019 

https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/parliament-and-christmas-during-the-civil-war/

American History · biography · Detroit/Michigan · history

The Italian Hall Disaster and the Copper Strike of 1913

In this post I want to bring attention to the Christmas Eve Italian Hall Disaster. This event is a forgotten piece of history to those outside of the local area. This story takes place in the early 1900s during a time where big corporations were booming and there were essentially no restrictions on how an employer could choose to treat their work force. It begins with local workers who became fed up with the way they were being treated and realized that they should be worth more to their employers. With great sacrifice to many union families, a strike begins. Unfortunately, it will end in a Christmas tragedy, but there will be a legacy that these families left behind. It should not be forgotten.

Continue reading “The Italian Hall Disaster and the Copper Strike of 1913”

english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

Image result for all together now statue
“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

Continue reading “A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914”

english history · european history · history

The Story of the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope everyone’s Holiday Season has been amazing!

In this post I wanted to examine the tradition of the Christmas tree. Many believe that Victoria and Albert were the first to bring the Christmas tree to England, but (and this was new to me as well) it had already been an existing tradition for the royal family. The first known Christmas tree was actually set up in the Queen’s Lodge, which is located in Windsor castle, by Queen Charlotte Continue reading “The Story of the Christmas Tree”

art history · history

Tis the Season for Gift Giving! (Part 2)

I had to put this as a seperate post, but I find the journey of this particular medieval gift to be very interesting. This gift illustrates many of the different occasions to give gifts (which I discussed in my previous post) and how these gifts get re-circulated.

This piece is commonly known as the Eleanor of Aquitaine vase. It was crafted in a pear shaped and was made of rock crystal with a mount made of silver. The gems and gold adornments seen in the featured image were added later by the abbot Suger.

In the 12th century this vase was gifted to William IX of Aquitaine (Eleanor’s grandfather) and is believed to have been gifted to him by Imad al-Dwala abd al-Malik Ibn Hud, the last Muslim leader of Saragossa. Continue reading “Tis the Season for Gift Giving! (Part 2)”

art history · history

Tis the Season for Gift Giving! (Part 1)

Now that Thanksgiving has finished it is time to begin the crazy ritual of shopping for that perfect gift. Rushing out early on Black Friday and grabbing that last Xbox on sale! It can be crazy, but you can bet I was out there and, as a result, came back with my gift list completely finished. These are some of our gift giving customs of today, but during the medieval era there was a lot more that went into it.

The ritual of gift giving has always been a part of society and many of these gifts have become pieces of artwork that we know today. During the middle ages, among the upper classes, there was a strict ritual surrounding gift giving. “To give, to receive, to reciprocate,” to quote from Buettner’s article, was the formula. Continue reading “Tis the Season for Gift Giving! (Part 1)”