Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas in the time of The Puritans ~ #Christmas #history #CivilWar @CryssaBazos


Christmas in the time of The Puritans.
By Cryssa Bazos








The Puritans who Abolished Christmas



Christmas has had a long tradition of being under siege. There’s Ebenezer Scrooge with his humbug attitude toward Christmas cheer, and the Grinch who tried to steal it. Yet these literary examples pale in comparison to the English Parliament’s attempt to abolish Christmas during the English Civil War. The blame often falls to Oliver Cromwell, who is cast as both Scrooge and the Grinch for cancelling Christmas, but the campaign to eradicate Christmas started years before he rose to power.

Historical Background


From 1642 to 1651, England was gripped by three episodes of civil war. Parliament opposed the absolute rule of King Charles I, and, for the most part, sought Parliamentary reform. While the moderates who opposed the king were focused on curtailing the king’s power, more extreme dissidents stepped into the ring to demand religious reforms. These Independents (or Puritans) were seeking to reform the Church of England. Their view was that the Reformation did not go far enough to break from the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church. During this time, they stripped the churches of their altar rails, stained glass, and icons, all in an effort to create a more godly society, cast in a strict Puritan mode.

But why pick on Christmas?


Since Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and the Puritans were focused on church reform, you’d think that they would want to celebrate Christmas, not abolish it. The reason lay in its observation. Christmas was a time of revelry overlaid on pagan traditions. Today many complain about the commerciality of Christmas, but then the complaint from some quarters focused on the decadence and frivolity of the season. The twelve days of Christmas lasted from Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night, the evening before Epiphany. Twelfth Night was particularly a raucous affair, presided by the Lord of Misrule.

If you stepped into the 17th century for Christmas, you would have seen many of the churches and halls decorated with greenery that consisted of rosemary, bay, holly, ivy, and mistletoe. The great Yule log was laid to burn in the fireplace, while mince pies, plum pudding, cakes, and roasted meats would be laid out for feasting. Women would go wassailing door to door on New Years Eve singing songs of the season in exchange for coin, food or drink. The common folk would gather for revels preformed by mummers, while the court favoured extravagant masques with singing, dancing and plays. Professional actors and courtiers would don elaborate costumes with elaborate stage sets to perform before the King and Queen.

Mischief and mayhem was certainly the order of the day and things often got out of hand.

"Christmas - The Wassail Bowl"  ~ Hollis, Thomas (1818–1843)


The Christmas bans

The cancellation of Christmas did not happen overnight. In September 1643, a year into the civil war, Parliament signed a treaty with Scotland to provide military support for their fight against King Charles I. One of the conditions imposed by Scotland was that Parliament reform the Church of England. Seriously, a case of preaching to the choir. They needed very little encouragement to tackle that.

The Saint’s days were abolished and in their place, national fast days (not feast, quite the opposite) were instituted. A line was drawn in December 1644 when a national fast day landed on Christmas Day. Parliament posted a public notice confirming the fast day was on and Christmas off. In the future, Christmas was to be a normal working day. Not only that, they rubbed a little salt in the wound:

“And that this day in particular is to be kept with the more solemne humiliation, because it may call to remembrance of our sinnes, and the sinnes of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ into an extreame forgetfulnesse of him, by giving liberty to carnall and sensuall delights.” Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642 -1660; British History Online.

The people were not amused. Over the next few years, there were scattered riots against shop owners who were open for business on Christmas, and angry mobs showing up to churches demanding a service. Apprentices led a revolt, having had their holiday eliminated and their traditional alms on St. Stephen’s Day (the day after Christmas) cut off. In defiance, greenery was draped over a public water conduit at Cornhill, and the Lord Mayor of London was forced to bring reinforcements to put the riot down.

An example of this happened just after Twelfth Night in 1647. Mathew Clarke, the Minister of Strettam from the Isle of Ely, petitioned Parliament for justice over his rough treatment at the hand of his parishioners. By this time, Parliament had imposed a penalty on ministers and churchwardens who did not comply with Parliament’s ban against Christmas services. Mister Clarke complained that his people brought in a soldier to preach to the congregation (because he wouldn’t risk being fined) in the morning and afternoon. The minister pleaded with them to cease, but they threatened to pull him down from his reading-seat and get the soldier to preach again that evening if he didn’t do it himself.

In every sense, the battle over Christmas divided the country as the war had.

It was really only when King Charles was executed in 1649 that the Christmas controversy had the wind knocked out of it. Parliament now controlled the entire country, and they were determined to usher in the rule of Saints.


What about Ollie?


With the execution of the king, Oliver Cromwell became a leading voice for Parliament. He was appointed Commander in Chief and sent to punish the Scots for supporting the king’s heir, Charles II. After the last battle of the civil war in 1651, everyone looked to Cromwell for leadership. In 1653, he became the Lord Protector and a de facto king. Cromwell had always supported abolishing Christmas and made a point of working on Christmas Day as many other MPs did. Though he was not single-handedly responsible for cancelling Christmas, he did enforce the law when he became Lord Protector, thereafter earning a place in history as a bona fide Grinch.


Oliver Cromwell


Final good tidings


Fortunately, the ban on Christmas only lasted until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. When King Charles II ascended the throne, he ushered in a new era of merriment and restored the holiday. Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day.   



Media:

Image of people celebrating Xmas:

By T. Hollis (likely Hollis, Thomas (1818–1843))R.W. Buss (1804 – 1875). "For Mr. Hogarth, of the Haymarket, he painted four small subjects illustrative of Christmas, entitled, Tlu Waits ; Bringing in the Boar's Head ; The Yule Log, and The Wassail Bowl ; all afterwards engraved." [1] [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)
], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture of Oliver Cromwell:
By Peter Lely - Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2984325

Holly image- public domain from Visual Hunt. No attribution required.


I am a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW) and romantic fiction. I blog about English history and storytelling at my site, the 17th Century Enthusiast, and I'm involved with the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site and a member of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) and the Historical Novel Society (HNS). 


Cryssa loves to hear from readers, you can find her…



Traitor's Knot

England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.

Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Traitor's Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

23 comments:

  1. The Puritans certainly knew how to put a dampener on things. Great Post!!

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    1. They did have the reputation for being kill-joys.

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  2. Great detail on a fascinating event. Thank you!

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  3. It would have made more sense for them to insist on church attendance and services on Christmas rather than ignoring the day and working. They sort of threw the a baby out with the bath water in doing away with it altogether. The Puritans took the joy out of Christianity and Christmas. I do agree that much of Christmas has nothing to do with the reason the day was celebrated. Welcome Christmas that doesn't come in packages, drinks, parties, or presents-- How the Grinch stole Christmas would have given Cromwell a heart attack-- a little green person-- horrors. One of my favorite movies. After the restoration Christmas became one of the three days a year people were supposed to go to church.

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    1. It is surprising that they didn't insist on a day of church going, but Christmas had long been associated with the revelry that they abhorred. The Grinch is one of my favourites too. I always get misty when I see the Whos coming out to sing in the end. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. Oh those Puritans! John Knox the killjoy had already banned Christmas in Scotland - claiming that since the date of Christ's nativity is not mentioned in the bible, it should not be celebrated! also the Roman Catholic mass was anathema to him anyway. BTW Christmas was not a holiday in Scotland until 1958 - folk had to work. We made up for it at Hogmanay and New Year though!

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    1. Thanks for the comment Marie. I knew about Scotland paving the way but I didn’t realize it wasn’t observed all this time.

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  5. Great post! Having written a novel that opens at Dunbar 3 Sept 1650, I appreciate learning more about the times. “Ollie’s boys”, the Puritans in the Colonies, had a veritable Theocracy until a few Scottish POWs trickled across. In 1660, Mary Dyer and William Leddra, Quakers, were hung in Boston Common, and in 1692, Salem hung their witches. Those Puritan’s were tough, and being an immigrant Scot who had fought Ollie living in the Colonies had to be intolerable

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    1. Thank you! My second novel follows the Scottish prisoners after Worcester to Barbados. I believe that some prisoners from Dunbar may have ended up there too.

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    2. Alfred and Cryssa you might be interested in this account posted in my local library/museum about the Dunbar prisoners.: http://www.johngraycentre.org/east-lothian-subjects/war-battles-military/dunbar-1650/cromwells-prisoners/

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  6. Good job, Cryssa ... I hadn't heard about the Ely incident before. Rebellious parishioners listening to a soldier instead of the minister, indeed! Boggles the mind. But it does illustrate how varied people's reasons and reactions were to the Rebellion -- Cambridgeshire was full of good Puritans.

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    1. Thanks Sally! It was so ironic the length the parishioners had to go to hear a sermon on Christmas Day. It’s not as though they were waiting for a play.

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  7. Thank goodness for 1660 and King Charles II. Though Christmas might feel over commercialised now, I think I still prefer that to cancelling it!

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    1. I agree. The people in 1660 had a few things to celebrate that year. Thanks for the comment!

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  8. Thank you Mary Anne for including me in your Christmas blog series!

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  9. I wonder what Ollie would think of the word Grinch :)

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  10. Christmas 1660 must have been quite a party after 16 years of no Christmas celebration. Nice post...

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    1. Thank you. The party lasted for some time. :)

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  11. Why would you ban Christmas? I think that was taking it a bit far. No wonder they did not stay in power for long.

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    1. It does mystify a great many people. Thanks for the comment.

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    2. Presbyterians banned Christmas in Scotland till 1958, Beatrice - 400 years!!

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx