History of Christmas

(continued)

Christmas Enters the Dark Ages

Unfortunately there was a time when Christmas was scarcely celebrated – in a religious or secular fashion.  It has been written that when the Cromwell and his Puritans took over England in 1645, they cancelled Christmas.  Why?  It was cancelled because the Puritans vowed to free England of its decadent ways and Christmas was a part of it.   Part of their reasoning was that the exact date of the birth of Jesus couldn’t be found in the Bible so it wasn’t a legitimate holiday.

When Charles II was restored to the throne, Christmas returned.  But the pilgrims – who were English separatists – came to America in 1620 and they were even more orthodox than Cromwell and his Puritan followers.  In the first years of American history there was no Christmas.


There was even a time when it was actually “outlawed” in Boston.  From 1659 to 1681, anyone showing any Christmas spirit was fined five shillings.

But that wasn’t how life was throughout early America.  Further south in the Jamestown settlement, for example, there was more joy.  Captain John Smith is said to have reported that “Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.”  In addition, German settlers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina celebrated Christmas with great enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, Christmas faded away after the American Revolution.  This is because many customs were considered English.  And of course, feelings weren’t too friendly toward England at that time in American history.

Christmas Returns to America

Washington Irving was a best-selling author.  He believed Christmas ought to be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday.  And that it also ought to bring people together regardless of their social status or wealth.

So in 1819, Irving wrote a series of stories about Christmas in an English manor house.  The book was called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon.   Historians say his book wasn’t based on Irving’s own experiences.  Rather, he “invented” traditions by implying that his stories described the true customs of Christmas.

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The poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822 also gave Christmas a big boost in America.  Most people know it better by the first line of the poem, “Twas the night before Christmas…”  Moore is credited with establishing the prevailing image of Santa Claus that is still with us today.

Then in 1843, Charles Dickens published his book, A Christmas Carol.  His book also played a huge roll in revitalizing Christmas and its customs.  Dickens – like Irving – stressed family, goodwill, charity and compassion.  This was in contrast to the prevailing celebrations of the times which featured hedonistic excess.

Dickens’ book struck a harmonious chord throughout England and America.  The people were ready for a change and embraced it wholeheartedly.

During the next 100 years many scholars say that Americans actually re-invented Christmas.  They looked to immigrants as well as the Catholic and Episcopalian churches to discover how Christmas ought to be celebrated.  We created our own customs along with customs long established in other countries.  Some of the customs adopted include decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

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