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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Comments (3)
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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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