Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas Was Killed at Naseby Fight

After the English Civil war was over, the Puritans were in charge, a 'godly government' that would do their damnedest to follow the bible and reform the morals of the country. They were the closest thing the English ever got to the Taliban and their most infamous act was allegedly banning Christmas, and a lot else besides.

From 'The Vindication of Christmas', pub 1653

Cromwell woz framed!

Cromwell actually had little to do with the ban, it was the work of the Puritan dominated parliament and started while Cromwell had far better things to be doing, like charging about with his Ironsides beating the crap out of Cavaliers.

In 1643 the Rump Parliament decided that all traditional feasts were to be cancelled and that instead there would be monthly 'Thanksgivings', fast days held on the last Wednesday of each month. In 1644 Christmas coincided with the fast day for December, and no, they were not going to let up on the prescribed 24 hour starvation. Indeed the fast was to be celebrated -

With the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights...

In 1647 Christmas was banned outright. Every Christmas was to be a fast day whether it coincided with a Thanksgiving or not and it was enforced by soldiers going house to house just before dinnertime and confiscating any meat they found cooking there. Troops also made sure all shops and businesses were open and that they were not forced to close by violent protest, since the measures had created a new Christmas tradition – rioting!

But even then they were just catching up with the Presbyterian Scottish Kirk who had banned Christmas back in 1640, and while the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought the festival back in England, Massachusetts kept the ban going until 1681 and it wasn't repealed in Scotland until 1686.

And why did they ban it? Because they found nothing in the Bible to say that the day should be celebrated, and were good enough scholars to know that the traditions were pagan in origin. They also banned it because the Catholics liked it; the recusant gentry pretty much gave themselves away with the magnificence of their Christmas celebration in Elizabethan and Jacobean times. Christmas was unbiblical, popish and pagan all at once, as far as the Puritans were concerned it HAD to go.

The Puritan Revolution - 'If in doubt DON'T'

The Puritan zeal to reform all that was reformable knew no bounds. Once King Charles was dead it was year zero of a new godly age, and the people of the British Isles were in for a rough ride.

In 1650 the death sentence was introduced for adultery, though English juries were sensible enough not to find many people guilty, even less to hang them. Only three or perhaps four cases of this cruel law being carried out can be found for the ten years it was theoretically in force.

Trying to stop the English (of all people) from getting drunk and swearing were also a dismal failures. In fact it became a matter of pride among some men to be had up in front of the magistrates for drinking as many times as possible. The Major-Generals did manage to close a lot of allegedly 'excess' alehouses in 1655, but when their rule ended the next year they all just opened up again. Some magistrates took the swearing ban very seriously, fining people or sticking them in the stocks for saying 'Upon my life'. But mostly people just told the government to fuck right off.

There were bans on bear baiting, cockfighting, long hair and wigs, fancy clothes, make-up, playhouses, working on the Sabbath etc. but most extreme example though was when one worthy MP suggested in debate that they should stop people from leaning

With sod all else to do on a Sunday thanks to the ban on work, ban on all games and shutting the alehouses people ended up sitting on the doorsteps of their houses on a Sunday shooting the bull. This gentleman observed that idly sitting gossiping could not be a sanctification of the Lord's day; a colleague wanted to go further, saying 'Some persons have not the conveniency to sit at doors, so I would have you add some to it, viz. leaning or standing at doors'.

This measure only failed by two votes.

As a Royalist ballad of the time said:

To conclude, I'll tell you news that's right,
Christmas was killed at Naseby fight:
Charity was slain at the same time,
Jack Tell-truth at that same time,
Likewise then did die,
Roast beef and shred pie,
Pig, Goose and Capon no quarter found. 

Yet let's be content and the times lament,
You see the world turned upside down.

A ballad of 1660 when English normality had been restored with a vengeance.

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