Friday, December 21, 2012

When Celebrating Christmas was Illegal: Part 1

Now trees their leafy hats do bare
To reverence Winter’s silver hair;
A handsome hostess, merry host,
Tobacco and a good coal fire,
A pot of ale now and a toast,
Are things this season doth require.*

*Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1684,
Cited in The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon
by Washington Irving, 1820

According to, Poor Robin's Almanack 
was one of the first comic almanacs,
one which parodied the astrological horoscopes published in others.
Even so, its description of  Christmas celebrations 
requiring only a fire in the fireplace 
and a delicious dinner with friends isn't too far off the mark for the time.

Considering that the Christian Christmas holiday 
was overlaid on the pagan Roman feast of Saturnalia
and the Celtic feasts celebrating the winter solstice,
both being celebrations characterized by joyful feasting,
gleeful revelry, and a suspension of conventions,
the quiet night by the fire seems an unusual way to pass the holiday.

photo courtesy of

But this may be because "Poor Robin" 
was writing during the early decades of the English Restoration,
which saw the return of the monarchy 
and an end to the government's suppression of Christmas celebrations.

Yes, it's hard to believe that England, responsible for the Victorian Christmas
which brought us greeting cards, Christmas cracker toys, games, 
and popularized Christmas trees,
was once a place where Christmas celebrations were illegal.

photo from, search "Christmas crackers"

In some cases, even eating food on the day was prohibited;
so any Christmas feasting had to be done in secret.
How could such a thing happen in 17th-century England, a Christian country?
Join me tomorrow to find out how it happened--
and who was responsible.

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