From various historical sources, Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) is thought to be one of the most controversial figures in British history. Cromwell was considered a regicidal (murderer of a monarch) a dictator by some and a hero of liberty by others and his almost genocidal activities against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland were well documented and harshly criticized.
Now we have another interesting item to add to the list of Cromwellian activities for people to love or to hate. Documented in Council of State Letters and Papers at the British National Archives Documents is information that reveals how the wave of religious reform that swept across England during and after the English Civil War might have changed the way Christmas is celebrated today.
In line with the Cromwellian puritanical views, the excesses and debauchery associated with the Christmas holidays strict rules were laid out banning all festivities related to Christmas and these rules included feasting and caroling.
In 1642, the government mandated a monthly fast in remembrance of the famine in Ireland. During the time of fasting, sporting activities and business deals were forbidden and to top it off the fasting was to be observed even when it fell on Christmas day 1644.
Because the ban was generally ignored it decided that a strict clamp down should be enforced according to SP 18/158, f.95 as follows:
‘The festivals of Easter, Christmas, and other holy days having been taken away, the Lord Mayor and justices of London and Westminster are to see that the Ordinance for taking away festivals is observed, and to prevent the solemnities heretofore used in their celebration.”
Although this anti-Christmas ban was ignored by many people who continued to observe the holiday in secrete, it’s hard to believe that it continued for almost 20 years. The monarchy was restored a couple of years after the death of Cromwell in 1660. The law was publicly reversed by Charles II and the public was officially allowed to follow the 12 days of Christmas.
Click on National Archives to learn more.