Where Did Our Christmas Traditions Come From? Did You Know That Christmas Was Once Banned?

Christmas banned not once but twice!

Winter_in_Elmstead_Woods_(8),_the_holly_and_the_ivy_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1655707Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public event. It incorporated many of the elements that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts: evergreens, holly and ivy to name a few. Christmas gift giving was between people with a legal relationship, a tenant and a landlord. It’s also important to remember that society was agriculturally based and tenant farming was the norm. Large elaborate meals, dancing and sing – a - longs were part of a long list of  extremely popular  indulgences in England. During the Reformation, many Protestants changed  the date of giving gifts from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

The Pilgrims strongly condemned Christmas celebrations as a Catholic invention. The Church responded by trying to promote the festival in a more religious oriented way. Oliver Cromwell, an English Puritan, became a member of Parliament in 1628.  Disagreements between Charles I and the Puritans led to a civil war.  The victorious Puritans later appointed  Cromwell, Lord Protector of the realm. In 1647, he banned Christmas.  Cromwell personally may not have agreed but as head of the government historians blamed him. When Christmas was official banned the populace took the holiday underground. Anything associated with Christmas changed to conform to the new law.  Christmas Pie became Mince Pie.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgThe Puritans began the grand migration to America between 1630 – 1642. They initially went to The Netherlands because they believed that The English Reformation had stopped and they wanted more reforms. They later departed The Netherlands for America. When they arrived in The New World they joined with other radical Protestants to outlaw Christmas from 1659 – 1681 in the Boston Region.

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. Prior to his death there were pro-Christmas riots.  In 1600 King Charles II  restored to the throne and the ban ended.

After we won the war for Independence from Great Britain all things English were out of favor and that also included Christmas. Christmas in America was not declared a federal holiday until 1870.

Several events or happenings occurred in the 19th century that helped to bring Christmas back and at the end of the day brought it back stronger than it ever before. What brought about the change in people’s attitudes towards Christmas? Three events occurred.

First, in 1820, Washington Irving wrote several short stories that appeared in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon Gent and Old Christmas. Irving’s stories depicted warm family gatherings while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England.

mzl.gpmjikcr.320x480-75Second, in 1822, Clement Moore wrote a poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas more popularly known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The poem popularized exchanging of gifts. As a result seasonal Christmas shopping assumed greater economic importance but gift giving focused on children.

Finally, in 1843, Charles Dickens imagined a Tudor Christmas in A Christmas Carol. He, Charles Dickens, may have been responsibleChristmas-Carol-in-London-a-christmas-carol-8917506-1413-1060 for reviving the Christmas spirit and its accompanying seasonal merriment. A Christmas Carol was an instant success.  Christmas was portrayed as a holiday filled with compassion, family values, generosity and fellowship. The spirit of the novel was a direct contraction to previously held attitudes of Christmas being a church centered event. A Christmas Carol also popularized two  well-known expression – Merry Christmas and Scrooge.