Any of you ready for a “Puritan Christmas”? Be careful now, because—some of you already guessed this—a Puritan Christmas is in fact—no Christmas at all. That’s right, as The Globe and Mail notes on its Facts & Arguments page, in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, on Christmas Day the poor customarily went to the home of the richest person in town where they were given food and strong drink, resulting in jolly, though at times a bit tipsy, celebration (citing an article by Jeff Guinn in The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram).
The Puritans, however, set out to eliminate Christmas. When they took control of Scotland’s Parliament in the 1580s, they ruled that Christmas no longer existed. As can be imagined, this did not permanently settle the matter. Nevertheless, the anti-Christmas sentiment in England gained momentum, producing proponents such as Blue Richard Culmer, an ex-minister who smashed stained-glass windows of churches celebrating Christmas, and Praise-God Barebones, a street preacher whose message was that observing Christmas was tantamount to blasphemy.
In 1642, the article notes, “the Puritan-led English parliament asked citizens not to celebrate Christmas in any way, other than private respectful prayer.” Yet not everyone was prepared to abide by this ordinance. In 1645, then, Parliament went one step further, declaring that only Sundays were holy days. Unless Christmas fell on a Sunday, people must report to work. Consequently, “Christmas riots” broke out in the streets of London, with apprentices singing carols and kicking soccer balls. The riots were dispersed.
In 1647, the Puritans threatened to throw anyone celebrating Christmas in jail, but relented when this provoked large protests in Canterbury and other locations. The anti-Christmas laws remained in effect until 1660 when the monarchy was restored, yet it took almost another 300 years before Christmas became a full national holiday in Scotland in 1958. Truly a worthy entry into a book yet to be written—takers, anyone?—on The Christmas Wars or The Battle for Christmas (though I am aware by existing similar volumes). Was the Puritans’ zeal misguided?
Fast-Forward to Today
In any case, as we fast-forward to our country in 2006, oddly enough, many conservative Christians have risen to advocate Christmas as an essential Christian outpost and bastion in an increasingly secular culture. We must “put Christ back into Christmas,” we are told, and reminded that “the first six letters of Christmas spell “Christ.’” Is this really a cause worth fighting for? And how can Christians in one age seek to outlaw Christmas and in another champion the cause of celebrating Christmas?
I could flesh out my own views on this in some more detail (and, incidentally, have done so in The First Days of Jesus), but perhaps it’s better to ask you what you think. Should we cast our lot with the Puritans or with modern-day Christian pro-Christmas advocates?