Did You Know Christmas Was Banned in Boston?

Yes, it is true! According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, under the influence of the Puritans, Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Law-breakers were fined five shillings… a lot of money in those days. Visit the article for more information on this and the following.

Do you know the Early history of Christmas?

  • Centuries before the arrival of  Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25.
  • Around 350 Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the date for Christmas. It is commonly believed that he so in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century.
  • Christmas began to be widely celebrated with a specific liturgy in the 9th century but it did not attain the liturgical importance of either Good Friday or Easter, the other two major Christian holidays.
  • In the Middle Ages, believers attended church on Christmas, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras.  Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
  • The practice of giving gifts, which goes back to the 15th century, contributed to the view that Christmas was a secular holiday focused on family and friends. This was one reason why Puritans in Old and New England opposed the celebration of Christmas and in both England and America succeeded in banning its observance.

Fast forward to the origins of Christmas celebrations in America

  • The poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (or “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), led to the increasingly central role of Santa Claus as the source of Christmas gifts for the family.
  • It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. 
  • The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.
  • Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.
  • The iconic version of Santa Claus as a jolly man in red with a white beard and a sack of toys was immortalized in 1881, when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the image of Old Saint Nick we know today.
  • Rudolph, “the most famous reindeer of all,” was the product of Robert L. May’s imagination in 1939. The copywriter wrote a poem about the reindeer to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.
  • Construction workers started the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition in 1931.

Food for thought

  • How many of these facts did you know?
  • Which is more important… Christmas or Easter?
  • What do you think of the deeper meaning of Christmas gifts as a reminder of the unsurpassable gift of the Incarnation?

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