When Easter and Christmas Were Banned: The Rise of Puritan Beliefs

Updated on March 30, 2018
Oliver Cromwell, 17th Century
Oliver Cromwell, 17th Century | Source

The Rise of Puratinism

In the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a group of orthodox English protestants called Puritans. As a general rule, Puritans felt the reformation had not gone far enough, and wanted to eliminate any reference to Catholic tradition in Britain. After Charles I ascended the throne, England was thrown into a civil war. Puritanism collided with the crown's desire to move the country away from a strict reformation policy. The Parliament had a majority of Puritans, and Charles I was eventually tried on "high treason." Charles I refused to enter a plea, which was interpreted as pro confesso, or an admission of guilt. He was executed on January 30, 1649.

Following the execution of Charles I, England was ruled by a Council of State, headed by Oliver Cromwell and Lord Fairfax. Oliver Cromwell then named himself the Lord Protectorate of England - a monarch in every sense, minus the official title. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, and English culture experienced a radical restriction on festivities under his reign.

At the time, Christmas was not a calm holiday of family togetherness (and rampant commercialism). Christmas often involved drunkenness, wild parties, and occasionally violent riots as the tradition of wassailing and mumming were observed. In fact, Christmas of the middle ages resembled a modern Mardi-Gras more than a day celebrating the birth of Christianity's Christ child.

Public Notice Banning Christmas in Boston

A public notice from 1659 in Boston, forbidding the celebration of Christmas. Feasting and other "Satanical practices" were subject to a fine of five shillings.
A public notice from 1659 in Boston, forbidding the celebration of Christmas. Feasting and other "Satanical practices" were subject to a fine of five shillings. | Source

Puritan Laws Under Cromwell

Cromwell enforced many laws in England, with penalty of fine, imprisonment, or death for those who would not comply. Some of the laws under Cromwell included:

  • Make-up was banned: women found wearing make-up would have their faces forcibly scrubbed.
  • Colorful dress was not permitted: women were expected to wear long black dresses with a white head covering, and men wore black clothes and short hair. This is the archetypal fashion associated with American Pilgrims (also Puritans).
  • Women caught doing unnecessary work on Sunday could be put in stocks.
  • Most sports were banned: boys caught playing football on Sunday could be whipped.
  • Christmas was banned: Cromwell's soldiers were sent among the streets to remove food cooking for Christmas dinner, and decorations for Christmas were not allowed.
  • All other Christian Holy Days were disallowed, including Easter. In January 1645, a group of ministers declared: "festival days, vulgarly called Holy Days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued."

A Brief History of Oliver Cromwell

The Banning of Easter in England

In June 1647, the Long Parliament officially declared the end to Easter (and all other Christian Holy Days). The primary reason behind the law was to eliminate all traces of Roman Catholicism in England: the only worship allowed was in church on Sunday, according to the Directory of Public Worship.

Parliament banned Easter, Whitsun (celebrated as Pentecost among the people of the day), and Christmas. As a way to give relief to working servants, laborers, and apprentices, the second Tuesday of every month was declared a secular holiday.

John Davenport, an American Puritan
John Davenport, an American Puritan | Source

The Banning of Holidays in America

Many Puritans fled to the American Colonies under the early reign of Elizabeth I, and Boston was a stronghold on Puritan belief. All Holy Days were banned in Boston, including Christmas and Easter, from 1659-1681. The law stated: "observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting or any other way any such days as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings."

In fact, Christmas was not declared a Federal Holiday until 1870 - and Congress was routinely in session on Christmas Day prior to this date. As late as 1869, Boston schoolboys could be expelled for skipping school on Christmas Day. Easter was also considered a heathen holiday and was banned: the only holiday allowed was a somber Thanksgiving Day.

A Modern American Christian Discusses Easter as a Pagan Holiday

Residual Impact of the Puritanical Ban on Easter

Along with Easter, many Puritans rejected the observation of Lent, primarily because they associated it with the Roman Catholic Church doctrine. Many Protestant denominations that descend from Puritans or Anabaptists do not observe Lent, while the "High Churches" (Lutheran, Episcopalian) and Orthodox churches observe the season.

The loss of the Lenten season among modern Protestant churches (primarily in America) is a holdover from the Puritanical dislike of religious Holy Days in general. Many American Christian churches are "rediscovering" the season of Lent and the practice of observing Lent is on the rise among Christians in the United States. In some areas, however, the idea of Lent is entirely rejected as being a Catholic idea, though the Lenten celebration pre-dates the Roman Empire. Lent is one of the earliest Christian Holy Days, and was recorded Iranaus of Lyons (c. 130-C. 200), an early church father.

These historical documents were not available to Puritans, however, and the entire idea of celebrating Holy Days was considered to be associated with Catholicism; thus the entire season of Lent was discarded along with the Easter celebration. While Easter was restored as a religious celebration, Lent was not recouped among some Christian churches. Christian churches (derived from the Anabaptists) that do not typically observe Lent include:

  • Amish
  • Mennonites
  • Baptists
  • Plymouth Brethren

Easter (and Christmas) Restored

The law banning Holy Days was lifted in 1681 in Boston. While the law was officially repealed, it took quite a bit longer for Christmas and Easter to become recognized and observed by the local population. Evergreen decorations were forbidden from Puritan meeting-houses, and school remained in session on Christmas Day until the day was declared a Federal Holiday in 1870.

Eventually, Puritanical views toward Easter, Christmas, and other Christian holidays softened. By the late 19th century, nearly every Christian household in America was celebrating Easter and Christmas, which was regarded as a joyful holiday promoting family togetherness.

In England, the restoration of Charles II to the throne re-established the monarchy and the celebration of religious holidays (including Christmas and Easter).

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        3 months ago from Western New York

        Thank you for the observation, Howard. I updated the article to correct the paragraph in question.

      • profile image

        Howard 

        3 months ago

        Just wanted to observe that Whitsun was never a pagan holiday, although it often fell close to Beltane, which was.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        4 months ago from Western New York

        I can't imagine such an austere lifestyle, Shirley. The puritanical era must have been rather dull. I far prefer a more joy filled existence!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        4 years ago from Western New York

        Our winters are so long here (in Western NY) that any and all celebrations are most welcome! I can only imagine how long winters in Scotland must be!

      • Silver Fish profile image

        Silver Fish 

        4 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

        Which is why New Year became such a big thing in Scotland- midwinter had to be celebrated somehow!!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        4 years ago from Western New York

        Wow, that is fascinating, Silver Fish! I didn't realize it was banned in Scotland!

      • Silver Fish profile image

        Silver Fish 

        4 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

        Great hub. Christmas was also banned in Scotland for almost 400 years, and only became a public holiday in 1958.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        I agree with the overcommercialization, mslibra - everything from Christmas to Valentine's Day have become huge shopping holidays. Some Christians in the USA do not practice Christmas in its current form, due to the overwhelming secular and pagan influences. Other Christians enjoy the holidays and simply place less focus on the materialistic side of the season.

        I think it is all in great fun and we enjoy the holiday seasons, but we try to keep the materialism from getting out of hand. We have two young sons who have many doting relatives - we don't want them to think the main point of Christmas is getting presents and spending money.

      • profile image

        mslibra 

        5 years ago

        Enjoyed learning all of this. And good to know 'why' the Puritans believed what they did. Hurray for Charles II, but I think both holy days have been overcommercialized.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        7 years ago from Western New York

        One of my friends was wondering why so many American churches don't celebrate Lent, so I did a little research on the subject. No Christmas or Easter: Cromwell was definitely a spoilsport!

      • Jane Bovary profile image

        Jane Bovary 

        7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

        Five shillings was an awful lot of money in those days. Thanks for this very interesting piece of history leahlefler.

        Cromwell was such a spoilsport..

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)