"War on Christmas" Charge Echoes Past Debates, Expert Says

December 23, 2005

Is political correctness killing the Christmas spirit? Some say yes. Others disagree.

Whatever you believe, Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, says the current debate deserves historical context.

"It seems like we are reverting back to the days when Christians were trying to abolish Christmas," Bryant said.

Illegal Christmas

Yup, you read that right. When Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, rose to power in England in the 17th century, he passed a law in 1647 that severely punished anyone caught celebrating Christmas.

The Puritans believed that only the Sabbath (Sunday) should be celebrated as a holy day and considered Christmas a decadent celebration with pagan roots.

"If Christmas landed on the Sabbath that'd be OK," Bryant said. "But any other day of the week, Christmas was essentially just celebrating—frivolity and having too much of a good time, which in Puritan times wasn't any good."

In December of that year riots against the anti-Christmas law in London, Oxford, Ipswich, and Canterbury were put down with brutal, and sometimes deadly, force.

In 1652 a new law imposed even stiffer penalties and heavier fines on anyone who participated in a festivity before, during, or immediately after Christmas. The law also forbade stores from closing that day and banned church services unless Christmas fell on the Sabbath.

When England's monarchy was restored in 1660 one of the first acts was a declaration that Christmas could once again be made merry.

Meanwhile, battles over celebrating Christmas were being fought in the New World as well.

The Puritans, who settled the New England region of the American Colonies before Cromwell's reign, had brought their anti-Christmas sentiments with them. From 1659 to 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. The ban was repealed after complaints over the law's severity.

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