Famous Christmases in History

The Puritans in New England Ban Christmas: Famous Christmases in History #8

The Puritans in New England Ban Christmas: Famous Christmases in History #8

The Puritans in the New England colonies, particularly Massachusetts, did not approve of the celebration of Christmas. It was discouraged from the time the colonies were founded, until Massachusetts officially banned it in 1659. Even after the ban was lifted in 1681, people still sometimes were arrested and/or fined for celebrating it until it became a federal holiday in 1870. This is why the Puritans decided to ban Christmas.

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A famous Christmas in American history is when the early Puritans in New England banned it. In the early 1600s, people in England loved celebrating Christmas with all kinds of parties, games, and other festivities, just like we do today. The Puritans disliked this because they believed the revelry associated with Christmas took away from the piety of it. They also liked to tell their detractors that there was no Biblical basis for celebrating the holiday. Instead of trying to force people to focus on the piety part of Christmas, they simply did away with it altogether when they came to America and founded their own community.

The first Christmas that the Puritans were in New England, they spent it working in the fields and on their homes as they built their new community. There wasn’t an official ban at the time, but everyone there knew Christmas wasn’t to be publicly celebrated—and not even privately, because the authorities would be upset if anyone got caught doing it. In fact, when the Puritans temporarily took control of England for eleven years during the English Civil War a couple of decades later, one of the first things they did was to cancel Christmas, even going so far as to close churches and arrest ministers who preached on that day. When the monarchy was restored, so was Christmas, but it still remained forbidden in New England.

The second Christmas that the Puritans were in New England, there were visitors there from England who did not know that Christmas was unofficially forbidden there. Governor William Bradford yelled at some unwitting new arrivals on Christmas Day when he found them “in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stoole-ball, and such like sports.”

During the first nearly four decades the Puritans were in New England, it was understood that Christmas was supposed to be just another day, where the shops were open and people were at work at whatever their profession happened to be. Then, in 1659, the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony officially banned the celebration of Christmas. This official ban was in effect until 1681, and according to it, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would get a fine of five shillings, which was a lot of money for most people at that time.

While the official, legal ban on Christmas ended in 1681, the Puritan authorities would still sometimes arrest those who were celebrating Christmas, particularly those who were trying to keep the English tradition of wassailing alive in the New World. Arrests and fines for celebrating Christmas—and especially wassailing—were common well into the 1700s in New England.

While Christmas gradually became more accepted in New England, and celebrated more as people from other Christian denominations emigrated to the colony, the Puritans kept up their criticism of Christmas and their discouraging of their congregants from celebrating it until 1870, when Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.