When Christmas Was Legally Banned for 22 Years by the Puritans in Colonial Massachusetts

Complaints about the commercial-age corruption of Christmas miss one critical fact: as a mass public celebration, the holiday is a rather recent invention. Whether we credit Charles Dickens, Bing Crosby, or Frank Capra—men not opposed to marketing—we must reckon with Christmas as a product of modernity. That includes the sacred ideas about family, piety, and gratitude we attach to the season.

The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony “despised Christmas,” notes Boing Boing. They associated it with debauchery: heavy drinking, gluttony, riots, “rowdiness and sinful behavior.” Not only that, but they “saw it as a false holiday with stronger ties to paganism than Christianity,” writes Rebecca Beatrice Brooks at the History of Massachusetts blog, and “they were correct, according to the book The Battle for Christmas.”

The History Dose video above informs us that in 1659, “the General Court of Massachusetts made it illegal to celebrate Christmas.” Feasting, or even taking off work on December 25th would result in a fine of five shillings. It seems extreme, but the holiday had a carnivalesque reputation at the time. Not only were revelers, at the end of a long year’s work, eager to enjoy the spoils of their labor, but their caroling might even turn into a kind of violent trick-or-treating.

“On some occasions the carolers would become rowdy and invade wealthy homes demanding food and drink,” Brooks writes. They “would vandalize the home if the owner refused.” The Puritan’s authoritarian streak, and respect for the sanctity of private property, made canceling Christmas the only seemingly logical thing to do, with a ban lasting 22 years. In any case, explicit ban or no, spurning Christmas was common practice for two hundred years of New England’s colonial history.

In the end, for all its supposed intrusions into the snow globe of Christmas purism, “we can partially thank commercialization for sustaining the domestic brand of Christmas we have today”—the brand, that is, that ensures we can’t stop talking about, reading about, and hearing about Christmas, whatever our beliefs, in the several weeks leading up to December 25th.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:

How David Lynch Stole Christmas

The Story of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” the Boozy Ballad That Has Become One of the Most Beloved Christmas Songs of All Time

Christmas Eve in the Trenches, 1914: When Warring Sides Laid Down Their Arms & Joined Each Other in Song

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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  • Bill W. says:

    To be fair, those Calvinists have always been an uptight bunch!

  • jakecosmosaller says:

    Great article. The Christian right has been engaged in a totally bobus fake campaign claiming “that Christ is the reason for the season” bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas and the increasing securlization of the holidays. Not knowing or even caring that Christmas as we know it is not an ancient religious festival dating back to the time of Christ! and as this article points out was even banned in the US for 22 years and barely celebrated in colonial times.

    of course this won’t change anyone’s mind. To the Christian right this is yet another example of leftists destroying Christian traditions!

  • Mark says:

    What a wonderful Christmas spirit you have. Great job of demonstrating the very attitude of constant rage, intolerance, and sanctimoniousness that conservatives often point out so typifies the left now. Oh well, haters gonna hate.

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