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…and may all your Christmases be…banned?

December 20, 2013

Every week, we do a “Fun Fact Friday” on our Facebook (while you’re reading this, take a moment to pull up a new tab and follow us: We post great pictures, events going on in the region, fun facts, and much, much more. We’ll wait while you log in.).  On this Friday, our fun fact was about when Christmas was banned in Massachusetts…

Today, it’s common to hear people lament the loss of the “true” meaning of Christmas.  We hear (not-so) faint whispers of “commercialism,” “materialistic,” “gluttonous intake of three times the number of calories any human ought to consume in one day,” etc.  Strange as it may seem, people had similar complaints 350 years ago.


Note the lack of snow, and mistletoe, and presents ‘neath the tree.

In 1659, Puritans were pretty much fed up with Christmas.  Their minor complaints dealt with the holiday being a reminder of the religious English customs they had come to the New World to escape.  Besides, they thought, December 25th was selected as Jesus’ birth day centuries after he had died.  Like Elizabeth Taylor’s random declaration that Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, it just sort of stuck.

But the thing that angered the Puritans most was the way people celebrated Christmas.  The work-focused, no-nonsense Puritans disliked the games, drinking, and feasting Christmas celebrations.   William Bradford, Plymouth County governor, wrote:

“ON the day called Christmas-day, the Governor called them out to work, (as was used) but the most of this new company excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it matter of conscience, he would spare them, till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noon, from their work, he found them in the street at play openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and told them, that was against his conscience, that they should play, and others work; if they made the keeping of it matter of devotion, let them keep their houses, but there should be no gaming, or revelling in the streets.”

On May 11, 1659, Christmas was officially banned in Massachusetts.  Anyone found celebrating the holiday was fined five shillings.  This ban, however, only lasted for 22 years.  In 1681, a newly-appointed governor lifted the ban and Christmas was celebrated again.


Salem Historic House tour (2013). Photo by Jeff Folger

But what about those 22 years of no Christmas?  They were pretty uneventful.  Christmas was not really a big to-do until it became vogue in the 19th century.  In 1856, nearly 200 years after it was banned, Christmas became an official state holiday in Massachusetts.  In 1870, it became a national holiday.  During the Victorian Era, Christmas cards and trees became popular and the foundation was laid for the sort of Christmas that blossomed in the 20th century and we celebrate today.

And that’s the story of when Christmas was banned in Massachusetts.

And yes, that is how Michael Jackson came to be known as the King of Pop – because Elizabeth Taylor said so.  And, you have now learned two fun facts today.


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