When Oliver Cromwell Banned Christmas
When Oliver Cromwell established the Protectorate in England in 1653, it was a much a religious revolution as it was political. Cromwell and the victorious Parliamentarians belonged to the protestant religous sect known as the Puritans.
The Puritans were so named becuase of their attempts to “purify” the Christian church by adopting more basic forms of worship. And among their chief targets was anything that could be tied to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church — and, by extension the Anglican, or Church of England.
Including the celebration of Christmas.
Driven by Puritan notions of religious purity, in 1647 Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas. Gone were such pagan ideas as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations (and, indeed, they were borrowed from Pagan winter celebrations) . Nativity scenes were banned as the worship of idols. Indeed, even the word Christmas was frowned upon as taking the Lord’s name in vain.
One thing that the Puritans objected to in particular was the idea of Wassailing, in which the underclass would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family. The drink, wassail, was a hot spiced wine. The result of the wassailing sometimes was an out of control drunken revelry, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously.
The ban was lifted in 1660, after Cromwell died.
But the Puritans were not the first to discourage Christmas celebrations. In 1583, the Scotch Presybterians decided that there were no bibical foundations for a Christmas celebration. Christmas remained a normal working day for Scots until 1958.
The anti-Christmas movement made its appearance in the New World when the Pilgrims (known then as the Separatists) banned Christmas celebrations in 1659. They, too, thought that it had too many pagan overtones. It also apparently reminded them of the Church of England, which they had left behind.
The ban in Massachusetts lasted for 22 years.
Today, Christmas celebrations still are banned by some religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.