Wholesome and Christian

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Modern Americans are often bemused to find that Christmas was illegal in Puritan Massachusetts. Why would the Puritans hate such a wholesome, Christian holiday?

They had their reasons. First, it wasn’t wholesome:

In early modern Europe, roughly the years between 1500 and 1800, the Christmas season was a time to let off steam — and to gorge. It is difficult today to understand what this seasonal feasting was like. For most of the readers of this book, good food is available in sufficient quantity year-round. But early modern Europe was above all a world of scarcity. Few people ate much good food at all, and for everyone the availability of fresh food was seasonally determined. Late summer and early fall would have been the time of fresh vegetables, but December was the season — the only season — for fresh meat. Animals could not be slaughtered until the weather was cold enough to ensure that the meat would not go bad; and any meat saved for the rest of the year would have to be preserved (and rendered less palatable) by salting. December was also the month when the year’s supply of beer or wine was ready to drink. And for farmers, too, this period marked the start of a season of leisure. Little wonder, then, that this was a time of celebratory excess.


Reveling could easily become rowdiness; lubricated by alcohol, making merry could edge into making trouble. Christmas was a season of “misrule,” a time when ordinary behavioral restraints could be violated with impunity. It was part of what one historian has called “the world of carnival. ” (The term carnival is rooted in the Latin words carne and vale — “farewell to flesh.” And “flesh” refers here not only to meat but also to sex — carnal as well as carnivorous.) Christmas “misrule” meant that not only hunger but also anger and lust could be expressed in public.

Second, it wasn’t Christian:

It was only in the fourth century that the Church officially decided to observe Christmas on December 25. And this date was chosen not for religious reasons but simply because it happened to mark the approximate arrival of the winter solstice, an event that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity. The Puritans were correct when they pointed out — and they pointed it out often — that Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.


  1. Cassander says:

    Cromwell’s commonwealth also worked quite hard to banish Christmas, at one point making it illegal not to work on December 25th. They accomplished little besides giving Charles the Second something popular to do upon his restoration.

  2. G.K. Chesterton says:

    Not true. See doctor of history Bill Tighe’s article here.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    Maybe they knew about the psychedelic origins.

    It’s all less Perry Como and more like Akasa Happy song.

    And we even blamed drugs on rock music, while it was Christmas all along. Oh, the irony.

    Merry, I mean groovy, Christmas!

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