2. Christmas cancelled?


Among his many atrocities and crimes, Cromwell has often been charged with the cancellation of Christmas and still is today such as in an article from 2013 entitled “When Oliver Cromwell ordered ‘cancel Christmas!’”[1] Christmas was in fact cancelled but not by Cromwell; while to be sure his beliefs indicate he approved of the cancellation there is no particular suggestion he was involved in the actual banning of Christmas. If blame is on anyone it is the Scottish and the Long Parliament. As early as 1560, the reformed Kirk had declared Christmas as having been invented by the Catholic Church and was abolished in its First Book of Discipline. In 1643 Parliament purchased Scottish military aid for its war against the King with, partially, the reform of the Church of England. Part of this reform meant a purgation of Catholic influences such as the mass of Christ. As it had no presence in the bible, the celebration of Christ’s birth was deemed to be nothing but tradition and was thus banned in 1645 before being made an offence in 1647. Shops were ordered to be kept open and churches to be shut as the day was to be treated as any other. The ban was ‘largely successful’[2] but not unopposed; in a 1650 report (above), attributed to Cromwell, complaints were made that there had been ‘wilfull & strict observation of the day comonly called Christmasse day throughout the Cittyes of London & Westm[inster] by a generall keeping of their shops shut … and exerciseing of the idolatrous masse’.[3] A 1652 pamphlet comparing the Puritans to the Jews who had crucified Jesus, defended Christmas and promoted its celebration: ‘I am old and bold to tell the Zealots of these eritick dayes, that my Master is King of Kings’.[4] The ban was short lived – in 1660 with the return of Charles II Christmas marched back into the national calendar.

By Alex Wakelam

(Image: 1650, SP 25/15, “London Defies ban on Christmas”, National Archives https://flic.kr/p/8ZT7rU)

[1] http://www.tamworthherald.co.uk/Cromwell-ordered-cancel-Christmas/story-20311332-detail/story.html

[2] Neil Armstrong, Christmas in Nineteenth Century England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 4

[3] State Papers, SP 25/15, f.54

[4] Anon., The Vindication of Christmas (London: 1652), 4.

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