Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cancel Christmas!

Yesterday, I finished my Christmas shopping and so, at last, I'm beginning to feel quite festive.  Love it or hate, Christmas is going to happen!
But this wasn’t always the case.
Oliver Cromwell
In the mid 17th century, England entered an unstable period of civil war. Statesman and General, Oliver Cromwell led his armies to fight against the monarch, Charles I - and ultimately had the king beheaded. Cromwell's supporters were Puritans, a group who, amongst other things, believed it was their mission to purge the country of decadence.
The Puritans believed you would ascend to heaven so long as you lead a blameless life on earth, and with this aim frivolity and excessive behaviour were banned. Woman had to wear a long black dress, white apron and headdress and no makeup. The men required to have short hair and dress head to toe in black.
Small wonder then that the heady excesses of Christmas day were frowned upon. December 25th was traditionally a public holiday, businesses closed, people attended church as well as exchanging presents, dancing, singing and drinking. The Puritans saw this as a frenzy of disorder:
'More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides ... What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used ... to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.'
Philip Stubbes. 

On 8 June 1647, Protestant Puritans were in power and passed, "An Ordinance for Abolishing of Festivals." - You guessed it! They cancelled Christmas.
"Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, that the said Feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide, and all other festival days commonly known at Holy-days be no longer observed …within the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales."

Olde Father Christmas.
Predictably, this was an unpopular move with the majority and the fate of Christmas became a rallying cry. "Old Father Christmas" became spokesman for those opposed to the new law and pamphlets soon appeared with his jollity contrasted against the gloomy piety of the Puritans.
People rebelled in their own way - some refused to open their shops on December 25th, others continued to cook a special roast meal and others attended secret services - although not always without consequences.
"I went with my wife to London to celebrate Christmas Day. Mr Gunning preaching in Exeter Chapel…as he was giving us the holy Sacrament, the chapel was surrounded with soldiers…"
John Evelyn 25 December 1657.
Charles II.
The Puritan campaign against Christmas lasted until 1660 when it was swept aside by the Restoration and the fun-loving Charles II.
So whatever your opinion on the excesses of Christmas, just be glad we live in times where we have the option to celebrate!

Grace x


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