egardless of your religious orientation Christmas has impacted you in one way or another. Although the holiday has come very far from its original purpose of celebrating the birth of Jesus, its transformation has allowed many of us to experience the “Christmas Spirit” regardless of our belief in Jesus’ birth.
To many Christians, this holiday is the biggest day of the year due to the holiday being the biggest of the Christian calendar. Many who opposed the religion, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, saw this holiday as a threat and thus sought to oppress or block those who celebrated it. This could not be more true in the case of the Puritans of England and her colonies who saw the celebration as a show of “paganism” and thus tried to suppress its celebration.
Puritanism in the British Empire
The true rise of the Puritans happened in the 1600s when many who followed the faith built upon Elizabeth I’s reformation of the English church in 1559. This reformation pushed for the churches to become more reformed and thus “more protestant.” This push can still be seen today as many British citizens are still part of the reformed Anglican religion today.
As this push developed in the 1600s, reformists moved to attack more integral parts of Catholicism to push their agenda and dismantle what they saw as “heresy.” This resulted in central parts of the religion, such as the celebration of Easter and Christmas, coming under attack during the 1600s. Such a decision was made due to many Puritans making the argument that nowhere in the Christian scripture was there a mention of celebration during the birth of Christ, something still debated by the Christian community to this day.
This radical change would spread to other regions which had a majority Puritan population, mostly those where English influence was at its highest. Not to be left behind, the Puritan population of Britain’s colonies in America followed suit leading to the ban of the practice. The most notable of these establishments was the Massachusetts Bay Colony which was heavily under Puritan influence leading to their notable ban on Christmas in 1659.
A day of “fasting and humiliation”
In the colony, Christmas was changed from a day of celebration to a day of “fasting and humiliation,” where the population of the colony was meant to reflect on the previous year and the sins that they committed. For those who still celebrated Christmas in the traditional way, of which there were many, a punishment was instituted by the authorities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
As it was seen as ‘heresy,’ a 5 shilling fine was introduced for anyone caught taking part in the celebration of this ‘pagan’ activity, although records of this law actually being put into practice are not concrete as the practice was banned for only 22 years.
Even with this ban, Christmas would still be practiced privately by those who weren’t influenced by the Puritans. Celebrations still went on away from the town center, and practices such as going house to house to sing Christmas carols were suspended until the ban was lifted in 1681 under pressure from mainland England where the radicalism behind the Puritan movement lost momentum.
Even though the practice was not banned anymore, much of the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who still followed the Puritan dogma still frowned upon the practice due to its aforementioned connotations with it.
Just 5 years after its reintroduction, there was still hostility shown towards the practice. This reached such a level that the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had to bring Redcoat soldiers to guard him during his celebration of Christmas due to fears that violence might erupt because of his disregard for the Puritan values of his citizens.
Areas with heavy Puritan influence would continue to frown upon the practice throughout the 18th century and even through parts of the 19th century. This was especially evident in the Massachusetts area, which was perhaps one of the most influenced areas of America. It took until halfway through the 19th century in 1856 for Christmas to be officially recognized as a public holiday by the governors of Massachusetts, a real show of the longevity of religious values throughout history.