Puritan: Oliver Cromwell, the man who banned Christmas.Can you imagine the government banning Christmas? Occasionally someministers of religion have spoken out against the commercialisation associated with Santa Claus, but Christmas itself?
With people sharing different beliefs in Australia, we have seen a few occasions when some people have questioned our
annual Christian celebration. Some schools in particular, have baulked at the singing of carols in case people of other faiths should be offended.
But there was a time when the peoplegoverning England, of all places, banned Christmas.
Their reason? They thought people were having too much of a good time. Also, the Puritans, who were in charge at the time, felt the date was wrong and they found no scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas.
If you’re looking for an expert in this subject, you had better look somewhere else, but the way I understand it, Oliver Cromwell, supported by his Puritan forces, took charge of England in 1645 and decided he was going to rid the country of its decadence.
He brought in an act of parliament banning Christmas. According to historian Marta Patino, Cromwell was upset at the celebrations that included drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling and “other forms of excess”. Cromwell said that nowhere in the Bible were the people being called upon to celebrate in this manner. He also saw Christmas as an unwanted remnant of the Roman Catholic Church and a tool of encouragement for the dissentient community. The Puritan war on Christmas lasted until 1660.
Needless to say, Cromwell’s action was unpopular in many quarters. According to some sources he was hanged a couple of years after (yes, after) he died. His head seems to have been the subject of some controversy
Some of the arguments against the form of Christmas celebration also moved to parts of the United States. Various other religious groups around the world have refused to accept Christmas as we know it.
In England, novelist Charles Dickens has been given some credit for reinventing the spirit of Christmas.
The word puritan became a part of our language.
Another word associated with this December Christmas merriment was wassail. Yet another, probably associated with the Christmas excesses that some people still experience, is accidie.
The Anglo-Saxons used the term wassail to mean something like “good health”. So far as it goes, I’m sure a fairbit of wassailing is going on around the country right now.
But those Puritans had another view of wassailing, especially the drunks knocking on their doors at night urging all inside to join in a drink to everybody’s health.
The earliest use of wassail that I could find came in 1205, but it was a popular word for many years (“he was much addicted to wine and wassail”). My big dictionary describes a wassailer as “one who takes part in riotous festivities”. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary describes wassail as “a drunken bout”.
No doubt the nuisance value of wassailing was what encouraged the Puritans to take a dim view of wassailers at Christmas.
And accidie? You won’t find this in many dictionaries, but accidie can be associated with the sin of sloth, almost like a Christmas hangover when you feel like doing nothing except having a good sleep, in the hope that things will be better in the morning.
A final warning: This holiday season, when you are inclined to indulge in a bit too much drinking and a quick kiss under the mistletoe, just remember Cromwell and the day he banned Christmas.
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