Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Banning Christmas

What with various rags bare-facedly lying about how Christmas is being taken away from Christians, (boo-hoo, rend our shirts and rant red-facedly), it made me think about something I dimly recalled from history lessons.

This being, Oliver Cromwell's rule where Christmas and various other holidays were really banned.

Now old Olly was a Puritan, and those boys didn't agree with the celebration of Christmas.

It held unwelcome links with Roman Catholicism, (Christ's Mass) and with Paganism. A lot of traditions surrounding Christmas even now, predate Christianity and have their roots or equivalents in paganism. Ivy was a symbol of Bacchus, while mistletoe is believed by pagans to protect against lightning, bring good luck, cure disease and grant fertility. Holly has similar pagan connections. The winter solstice was a good time for festivals: Saturnalia was a Roman tradition, involving (as one would expect of the Romans, their reputation being what it is) a certain amount of excess :D. It went on about a week, although various emperors tried to shorten it. And there was Yule, a northern European pagan festival, which involved feasting and the sacrifice of a pig to Frey, (from which we acquire the traditional Christmas ham).

It seems fair to say that the Puritans wouldn't have thought much to Pope Gregory's advice to Abbot Mellitus (in round about 600 CE, when he was coming over to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity), which was to allow them some leeway with their festivals so not to drive them away from conversion. (This link takes you a site giving the contents of the letter, as preserved by the Venerable Bede.)

The Puritans wanted a day of fasting and reflection rather than the rip-roaring hoo-ha that surrounded Christmas. They wanted rid of all holy days whilst Sundays were to be strictly observed. They even passed legislation to this effect in 1645.

Of course, they didn't succeed altogether in getting people to stop celebrating, but they did make it dangerous.

Cromwell is an interesting figure: I must read more about him. What day is it today? ... Oh, library's shut today.

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