Christmas Returns to England
Christmas was legitimized when the English monarchy, led by Charles II, returned to power in 1660. The holiday could be observed freely, and people were happy. The popular sentiment of the time was expressed in this verse:
Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.
With the goodwill of the new leaders, and with the lifting of the formal bans instituted under the Puritans, Christmas seemed to be positioned for a comeback of titanic proportions in England. But it was not to be.
The holiday was, at the outset of the Restoration, a shadow of what it had been. The pagan excesses and riotous elements were not the only things lost to the Puritan purge; the Christmas spirit seemed to have left many hearts and minds.
Indeed, although the Puritans had been deposed, much of their philosophy still carried a lot of weight , and many carried on as if they were still in power. Christmas may have been legal, but it was still opposed by some powerful members of the clergy. This left a good many parishioners in a bind, and kept the holiday from making much of a public recovery. The middle of the eighteenth century brought still more obstacles.
In this time of the Industrial Revolution, all thoughts had seemingly turned toward work; everything took a back seat to the quest for money and progress. In this fast-paced atmosphere, it appeared, there was simply no room for the holidays.
The numbing, inescapable want of most English workers and their families was one of the chief reasons that people had a hard time finding much to celebrate during this period.
Common people didn’t have much to celebrate with and they didn’t have much time, either. England had entered into an era of child labor, miserable working conditions, and endless work weeks.
Throughout this period, there were small, quiet groups of people who kept the holiday alive in their hearts and homes. But mass enjoyment of the holiday would not take place again until the Victorian Era.
The Germans Kept the Flame Alive
While Public celebrations of Christmas faced both religious objections and adverse social conditions in England, the German people were enjoying a wonderful and expansive Christmas tradition that had been building up over the centuries. It is very likely that the American love affair with Christmas that began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so influential in the way the whole world now views the holiday, would never have occurred if it had not been for the enthusiastic influence of Christmas-loving German immigrants.
The Germans had long espoused the idea of keeping the spirit of Christmas alive inside – in one’s heart, mind, and spirit – and turning that feeling outward in mass celebration. The German Christmas is one filled with trees, gingerbread houses, cookies, feasts, and carols; but most of all, it is the Christmas of childhood wonder and joy.
The Christmas season in Germany is about the longest anywhere; a month and a half. Starting with St. Andrew’s Night on November 30, the country throws itself into a festive abandon that doesn’t wind down until January 13, the Octave of Epiphany. Between those days, sixteen holidays are observed, and life is filled with both strict devotion to the Christ Child and joyous merriment. The cities are brimming with Christkindlmarkts (Christ Child Markets), fairs, parades, and carolers. The smell of gingerbread and other delicious treats is in the air, and Christmas trees are everywhere. Other German contributions to the world’s celebration of Christmas include the timeless carols “O’Tannenbaum” (“Oh, Christmas Tree”) and “Silent Night.”
One of the beneficiaries of the German love of Christmas was Victorian England. Queen Victoria assumed the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen; three years later, she married Prince Albert, who became Prince Consort. Albert, being of German descent, brought with him to England many of his homeland’s wonderful Christmas traditions.
In 1761, the Bank of England closed for forty-seven holidays over the course of the year; in 1834, it closed for only four. Employees of the mid-nineteenth century considered themselves lucky to get a half-day off for Christmas.
The German people have had an enormous part to play in shaping Christmas into the form we know and love today. It has been said that the Germans had such an abundance of Christmas spirit that they gave some of it to the rest of the world.