Although Oliver Cromwell is England’s poster boy for their banishment of Christmas, it was actually the Puritan Parliament that clamped down on the celebration for approximately 16 years from 1644-1660. Perhaps Cromwell’s sympathetic heart and actions were read more than the actual laws on paper, because to this day if you ask someone, “Who was responsible for England outlawing Christmas?” the most likely answer you’ll receive is Oliver Cromwell.
It won’t surprise anyone that the outlawing of Christmas in America began in England. Not unlike today, the mid-seventh century showcased a religious and political power struggle between those in power, who were trying to keep their power, and the everyday Joe who was being hit by some sort of move of the Spirit, as evidenced by their drive to become more holy, for a more righteous society in general, and their great hope of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ. Many of the Puritans who migrated to the American colonies did so, because their King was bypassing their Parliament to convict and imprison them not according to laws on the books (passed by Parliament) but according to his royal “Because I said so.”
You can’t blame the guy. He was being hen-pecked and sleeping in the doghouse. King Charles I married a zealous Roman Catholic from France who through her extreme devotion to the Pope had refused to attend her own husband’s coronation in 1625 because it took place in a non-Catholic cathedral.
Problem was that the general populace had already gotten a taste of something they liked more than a royal pain in the you-know-what. History shows us that the Puritan movement can literally be traced back young King Edward VI (1537-1553). John Knox was the royal chaplain for England’s first Protestant ruler prior to his becoming the leader of the Scottish Reformation.
When King Charles I, his close advisor, William Laud (who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633), and his queen tried their best to eradicate the “excesses” of Puritanism from the Church of England, the English Civil war ensued and gave rise to Oliver Cromwell. As the power passed from King Charles I to the Long Parliament (what I call the “Puritan Parliament” due to the parliament being full of puritans), parliament first began clamping down on the celebrations of Christmas by pressing for a name change in the early 1640s. The new name Christ-tide reflected their aim to change the nature of the winter holiday by doing away with the Catholic “mass” connotations.
The palpable drunkenness, misrule, promiscuity, gambling and other forms of excess of the time made Christmas the perfect target for the Puritans that believed it was their mission to cleanse themselves and their community of decadence. The Christ-tide name changed reflected the Puritans desire for the winter holiday season to merely be a time when people meditated upon the birth of Jesus through fasting and seeking the Lord rather than the gluttony and debauchery so prevalent.
In 1644, the Puritan Parliament called on the Scottish Presbyterians to support them in the English Civil War with the understanding that the English Parliament would impose a ban on Christmas in exchange for their alliance. The Scots had already placed their ban on Christmas at the height of the Reformation in 1583. Incredibly, this ban lasted almost 400 years until the 1950s.
In January 1645, a group of British ministers were appointed by parliament to produce a new Directory of Public Worship, which initiated a new church organization and new, acceptable forms of worship expected to be followed in England and Wales. The Directory made it clear that Sundays were the holy days reserved for the worship of God, not the vulgar festival days egregiously called Holy Days or holidays.
When the English Parliament adopted the Directory of Public Worship, initially it was one of several forms which could be followed. Reasonable. Right? But then, parliament made the Directory of Public Worship the only legal form of worship, abolishing and making illegal any other form of worship and church service. As you can imagine, this ban on the British Christmas was unpopular for many.
Feelings among pro and anti-Christmas advocates ran strong, after a second enforcement act against Christmas, Easter and Whitsun was passed by the English Parliament in June 1647, the people rebelled so forcefully that armed officers had to be sent to St. Margaret’s Church, near the English Parliament itself, to remove its evergreen decorations. Rioting broke out in London, Kent, Oxford, Canterbury and Ipswich, in which several people were killed.
A petition with more than 10,000 signatures demanded either the restoration of Christmas or else the king will be back on the throne. What’s ironic is Parliament didn’t run England until two years later (from 1649-1653). Then Oliver Cromwell and his 11 major-generals ran the show from 1653-1658.
The English pendulum swung from one extreme – King Charles I and his unjust persecution of Puritans – to another – Puritans being hated for their strictly enforced Cromwellian rules.
One of the things King Charles II did upon being restored to the throne was exhume Cromwell’s body and put his corpse on trial for regicide (i.e. murdering a king), and then, he made all legislation passed from 1642-1660 null and void, so the common folk could once again mark the Twelve Days of Christmas.
~ Robin Main
Copyright Dec. 4, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
Most references to the things I write on this blog can be found in my book SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/).
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