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.”

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

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