Around this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear some complaints about an alleged war on Christmas. Whatever your thoughts on that particular subject, there have definitely been times throughout history when Christmas came under harsh attack. The reasons why might surprise you.
When the Puritans took over England from King Charles I, they wanted to get rid of anything and everything related to Catholicism. That included Christmas. Why did the Puritans want a war on Christmas? They couldn’t find any basis for celebrating it in the Bible, and for Puritans, the Bible ruled all. Puritans also were not big fans of the fact that Catholics basically just stole a heathen holiday and tried to make it “Christian.” This wasn’t the real problem the Puritans had, however. They were very upset that everyone used Christmas as an excuse to give into their most indulgent appetites. People partied too hard, basically.
In 1644, the Puritan Parliament banned the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun. However, most people were not happy with this level of extremism. Riots broke out around the country and in Canterbury, the people even seized control away from the Puritan leadership. It didn’t take too long for Christmas to make a return. In 1660, the holiday was reinstated when King Charles II took over.
The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 and like their fellow fun-haters in England, the leaders did not like Christmas. Shops and schools were instructed to stay open, while the churches closed their doors. In 1659, the General Court made it an official crime to publicly celebrate Christmas. However, there don’t appear to be records of any arrests made during this time, and people were free to celebrate in private. Like in England, Massachusetts was just worried about excessive, trouble-making celebrations in public. In 1681, many Puritan laws were repealed, including the ban on Christmas.
After the French Revolution, revolutionists wanted a clean slate. That included suppressing the Catholic church, which had been closely linked to the monarchy. Anything once associated with royalty and the bourgeoise was out, such as churches and abbeys. This meant changing Christmas, obviously a very Christian holiday. Revolutionist leaders forbade nativity scenes in the streets, but people would craft their own, making tiny clay figurines that represented everyday people and their favorite saints. In the new revolutionary calendar, months were renamed and each given 30 days. Certain days were also renamed, so December 25th became “Dog Day.” This calendar was used for about 12 years. Today, Christmas and its celebrations are much-beloved in France.
Before an official ban, Cuba declared that Santa Claus as a symbol of American imperialism. The director of culture instructed citizens to expect presents from the Three Wise Men on January 6th, not December 25th, and all decorations should depict traditional Cuban scenes. In 1969, Fidel Castro pulled the plug on Christmas altogether, banning it because he said it distracted people from the sugar harvest. That ban lasted until 1997 before being lifted in honor of Pope John Paul II, who would visit in January 1998. Castro initially said Christmas would be a national holiday just for one year, but in reality, his war on Christmas was over.
While many places around the world did not allow Christmas at one time or another, there’s still lots of unique global traditions!