It was inevitable that the Puritans would come up somewhere in my festive posts. Unfortunately for the Christmas loving inhabitants of Parliamentarian England the holy day was deemed to smack of popery. Admittedly there was rather a lot of drinking, dancing and general merriment and that wasn’t a good thing on account of the fact that it encouraged folk towards sinfulness. Puritans felt that really and truly that rather than games, morris dancing, Yule logs and eating too much that the population should aim for a more mediative approach to the day involving fasting and prayer or just going about their business as usual. In January 1645 the Directory of Public Worship stated that ‘Festival days, vulgarly called Holy days, having no Warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued’.
In June 1647, following Parliamentary victories, an ordinance banned Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. The same ruling decreed that the second Tuesday of every month should be declared a holiday for students, servants and apprentices. Unfortunately not everyone, particularly the students and apprentices, were terribly keen on the idea. Parliament was then required to spend rather a lot of time working out how to prevent Londoners from celebrating Christmas. It ordered that shops should remain open as usual, church services were observed – priests offering up a Christmas Sermon found themselves at the end of an unfestive arrest warrant.
In Ely a puritan minister tried to keep a low profile but his traditionally-minded parishioners informed him that if he didn’t preach a sermon they’d get someone else to do the job so the priest agreed for the sake of peace and quiet.
The people of Canterbury found themselves at loggerheads with the authorities that year as well. Eating mince pies was declared to be illegal and shops were to be kept open. The mayor took it upon himself to enforce the rules that shops should open as usual. Dissatisfaction was expressed through the so-called Plum Pudding Riots which began with a shopkeeper being put in the stocks for refusing to open his shop. A game of football ensued through the streets of Canterbury that saw several puritan windows broken and the mayor was forced into hiding whilst his home was looted…nothing like a spot of goodwill in December. It was only when a band of Parliamentarian soldiers were dispatched to Canterbury in January 1648 that order was restored but by that time the people of Kent were up in arms against Parliament.
The unrest wasn’t just confined to Kent the good burghers of Norwich and Ipswich weren’t particularly happy about the disappearance of Christmas either, although in Ipswich the ringleaders of the unrest didn’t make it much beyond Boxing Day before they were rounded up. In London apprentices took up flower arranging – holly and ivy stuck on the water conduits at Cornhill – which didn’t go down very well with the authorities.
Needless to say that in addition to Christmas services and mince pies, carol singing had been also been banned by that point (just as well there weren’t shops playing carols from October onwards in the seventeenth century or the ban might have proved rather more popular.)
It was only with Cromwell’s death and the restoration of Charles II that Christmas was allowed back into the calendar.