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How the Lord Protector Stole Christmas

I've already picked on the good folks who decry the celebration of Christmas in a previous post. But I couldn't just leave it at that. In the case of Christmas, I definitely stand with Luther above the other Reformers. He not only increased the revelries of his parishioners at Christmas, but he also wrote several Christmas carols, and is sometimes credited with being the first person to have a Christmas tree. Go Luther.

On the other hand, in 1642 the boorish Cromwell sent town criers down the street shouting, "No Christmas! No Christmas!" He also burned the boughs with which the people of London decked the streets, and everyone was required to report at work and avoid all solemnities or face a fine. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony a law was passed in 1659 stating: "whosoeuer shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labour, feasting, or any other way...euery such person so offending shall pay for euery such offence fiue shillings, as a find to the county."

I was surprised reading Of Plymouth Plantation this year that the Puritans there were much more lenient, allowing people to abstain from labor on Christmas. However, they were expected to sit quietly in their houses, and the governor, when he found a group of people playing games on Christmas, had their games confiscated and burned.

The English poet and satirist John Taylor, who lived at the time, pointed out the underlying irony in the whole business:

"All the...harmelesse sports, with the merry Gambolls, dances and friscolls, which the toyling Plowswaine, and Labourer, once a yeare were wont to be recreated, and their spirits and hopes reviv'd for a whole twelve month, are now extinct and put out of use, in such a fashion as if they never had bin. Thus are the merry Lords of misrule, supprest by the mad Lords of bad rule at Westminster. And to roast a Surloyn of Beefe, to touch a Collar of Brawne, to bake a Pye, to put a plumb in the pottadge pot, to burne a great Candle, or to lay one blocke the more in the fire for your sake (Master Christmas) is enough to make a man to be suspected and taken for a Christian, for which he shall be apprehended for committing high Parliament-Treason."