Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Year Christmas was 17th century Puritans took the Merry out of Christmas

Twelfth Night, 1668, Jan Steen
London, December 25, 1640: The first of the Twelve Days of Christmas finds all shops closed, churches open for special services, holly and rosemary adorning homes and places of worship, carols being sung, wassailers rewarded with specially brewed Christmas ale and punch, people dancing in the streets, card games and other sports played, actors performing on stage, mincemeat pies baking, plum puddings bubbling, and Father Christmas overseeing it all. Christmas is in the house!

The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas,1686, Josiah King
London, December 25, 1645: All shops open for business as usual, churches closed, not a holly berry or rosemary sprig in sight, no carols sung, no special food or beverages (mincemeat pies confiscated and bakers of such, duly fined,) no games, no dancing, no plays, no playing and Father Christmas has been exiled. Christmas has left the building!  

Oliver Cromwell, 1656, Samuel Cooper
The difference? The reign of a Puritan-based Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Anything smacking of revelry was denounced and soldiers were even ordered to roam the streets sniffing out any illegal substances, ie: mincemeat pies and Christmas puddings. As with many acts of extremism there was some basis for this reaction against all things Christmasy. Seems some segments of the populace had turned the Twelve Days of Christmas into one gigantic, raucous, (often bawdy) party with little left of the religious other than the church services. Thus the Puritans threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, and left England bereft of even the sweetest and most pious celebrations. In addition to ridding the country of traditions handed down since pagan days and wrapped up in festive Christmas ribbons (mistletoe, decking the halls with boughs of holly, Yule logs, etc) the anti-Catholic Puritans were intent on taking the "mass" out of Christmas, as well. Thus Christ's Mass (Christmas) became known as Christ-tide and was set aside only as a time of fasting and private prayer--if observed at all.

Christmas Pudding, London,
James Petts per Wikimedia Commons 
Christmas was not so easily legislated or threatened out of the hearts of the people, however, and many carried on quiet, clandestine celebrations during the long, dark days of mid-winter. When Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, both Charles II and Father Christmas were welcomed back with open arms. By December of 1660, Christmas celebrations were back in full swing although some of the earlier more rowdy aspects were toned down and a more family-friendly holiday warmed the hearths and hearts of England.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

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