An Interregnum Christmas

Did the “Puritans” really abolish Christmas, alongside Episcopacy, the Common Prayer Book, Maypoles, stage plays and other popular pastimes?

The evidence from the weekly Parliamentary Newsheet “A Perfect Diurnall” in the period 1646 onwards is unequivocal; they did!

Both Houses sat on “Christmas Day” throughout this period.

In 1646 it reported on "this day commonly called Christmas day and by ancient and superstitious custom kept in remembrance of the birth of Christ without any evidence of its truth”.

They went further in June 1647, when they abolished the celebration of all Holy Days, including Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, replacing them by a monthly  recreation day for scholars, apprentices and servants. They also sanctioned opening shops on the former “Holy Days”.

These measures were clearly not universally popular, as on Christmas Eve, 1647, the Commons received a Petition from London and Westminster freemen, complaining they had been "much abused" for opening their shops on the last Christmas Day and other holidays.

Both Houses sat next day, and in response to complaints of delinquent ministers making reference to Christmas Day in Sermons and in using the Common Prayer Book, re-emphasised their powers to examine and punish Churchwardens and others who allowed such heinous practices.

It could get much more serious! Three days later the Commons heard of a "great insurrection at Canterbury about keeping of Christmas Day", with “the Mayor, attempting to allay the tumult very much abused by the rude multitude". This escalated into blocking of roads, the rioters seizing the arms and ammunition in the Town Hall and erecting blockades, with the Cry "For God, King Charles and Kent".

Article written by Phil Chubb, Cathedral Library Volunteer

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