Christmas is Outlawed
It’s not surprising that some members of the clergy objected to the way in which Christ’s birth was being commemorated: Aside from the gluttony and games, they worried about observing Jesus’ birth as if he were a person rather than the Incarnate God. They argued that celebrations of the Nativity should be more spiritual, or perhaps abolished outright.
The more Christmas became established in the customs and hearts of the people, the more worried the clergy became. Old worries about the pagan elements of the celebration began to surface again, and some church officials questioned the prudence of having allowed them to continue in the first place.
With the Protestant Reformation in Europe, these objections gained the backing of an organized power. Beginning in 1517 with the posting of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses, the Reformation attacked religious feasts and saint’s days, among other things, as corrupt practices. Christmas was outlawed in Scotland in 1583.
The Protestants and Puritans of England also condemned the gluttony, drinking, and partying associated with Christmas celebrations and argued for all pagan customs to be done away with. Most Protestants observed Christmas as a day of quiet reflection; the Puritans pointed to the commandment to devote six days for work and one to rest. Unless Christmas happened to fall on the Sabbath, it was considered a workday.
By the middle of the seventeenth century, the holiday was under fire. The feelings of previous small pockets of objectors began to have a bigger impact as the political situation in England became increasingly unstable. From 1642 to 1649, the country was engaged in civil war as a result of the power struggle between the Stuart kings and Parliament. During this time, England entered its Commonwealth period and was ruled by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. The government issued official policies outlawing all religious festivals.
The era of the Puritan government was filled with such laws, updated over the years to become even more strict. At first, such declarations caused a great deal of upheaval among the people, who were unprepared for such a step. In the initial days of these ordinances, the people tried to disobey and there was even some rioting. Gradually, however, the Puritans won out. Christmas was outlawed, and those who celebrated it in any way were outlaws. Carols were deemed illegal and churches were locked, even to the clergy.
Technically, the Puritans objected to Christmas not as a Christian event, but as an excessive festival with pagan roots. Apparently, they believed the only way to deal with such impious doings was to abolish the day and everything associated with it. They meant to banish this wrong not only from the country, but also from the hearts of its subjects. They came very close to succeeding – but then came the Restoration.
(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “The Everything Family Christmas Book”)
“Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next Fast shall be celebrated because it falleth on the day which, heretofore, was usually called the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour, the lords and commons do order and ordain that published notice be given, that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every month, ought to be observed until it be otherwise ordered by both houses; and that this day particularly is to be kept with the same solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights.”
(1644 English proclamation outlawing public Christmas revelries)