Politics of Christmas

Deck the halls.  Hang the mistletoe.  Stuff a stocking.  Christmas has long been associated with merriment, joy, good tidings, maybe a plum pudding, lots of presents, comfort… and controversy.  Yes, it’s true.  Join us as we travel back in time and explore some Ghosts of Christmases past.  Hold onto your Santa hat.

Medieval Christmas: Misrule or Misery

Christmas in the Middle Ages was a lot different than Christmas today.  For starters, it was not the biggest holiday of the year – that honor went to Easter.  And while medieval Christmas was, to some extent, a Christian feast day the period surrounding Christmas preserved much older traditions. One such tradition? The reversal of societal norms. From boy bishops to the Lord of Misrule and the Feast of Fools, medieval Christmas was often a topsy-turvy time.  But the misrule wasn’t always good natured. Christmas could be a terribly dangerous day if you were not a Christian.  While medieval Europe’s Jewish population faced persecution year-round, the Christmas period was sometimes marked by increased hostility against Jewish communities.

Victorious against King Charles I, the Puritan Parliament of 1647 canceled Christmas.  The principle: if it’s not in the Bible, it’s not Christian.  Merriment?  Forbidden.  Feasting?  Fasting.  Shops?  Ordered to stay open.  Churches?  Shut down.  Ministers preaching on Christmas?  Arrested.  To Puritan England, Christmas was Pagan and distinctly “un-Christian.”  On Christmas Eve, 1647, the House of Commons ordered local militia committees to protect shopkeepers (who had no legal choice but to open) from ‘Affronts, Abuses, and Prejudices’ by ‘Malignants’ or ‘Others’ who may have opposed the Parliamentary order.  What about the colonies? Christmas was outlawed in Massachusetts from 1659-1681.  Punishable by a harsh fine, or worse.  Oh, and the carolers?  They formed an underground…