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The History of Christmas: Day 10 – Christmas Outlawed (1679 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 10: Christmas Outlawed In New England – 1679 CE

 

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Boston MA 1659: The church leaders of Massachusetts have received the support of the government to ban the festival of Christmas. The new law enacted this week by the General Court makes it illegal to celebrate Christmas in our state.

In a statement released by the Court, it upheld that “Christmas is nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.”

The noted Reverend Increase Mather was pleased with the result, saying, “Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25th did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”

The church has long noted that the celebration of Christmas involves behavior that is both obnoxious and shocking. Rowdy public displays, excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging, including the threat of doing harm, and the invasion of wealthy homes have long been a part of the celebration of the Christmas holiday.

The truth of the matter has been clear to see. Reveling easily becomes rowdiness, heightened by the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Misrule has given over to our laws being violated with impunity during this time of carnival that highly dishonors the name of Christ.

The Court stated, “It would be different if these holidays were celebrated in a Holy manner. But they are consumed in compotations, in interludes, in playing cards, in revellings, in excess of wine, and in mad mirth.”

Signaled out as two particularly dangerous seasonal practices were mumming, which usually involves the disgrace of the exchange of clothing between men and woman; who when dressed in each other’s habits, go from one neighbor’s house to another to merry make with them in disguise, and the singing of Christmas carols, which usually takes place in the midst of rioting, chambering, and wantonness.

The Court, supported by the church, hopes that “subsequent generations will forget that the church, more than a millennium earlier, had placed Christmas Day in late December, a decision that was part of what amounted to a compromise, and a compromise for which the Church has paid a high price.”

*

“Merry Christmas, John! We’ve come to celebrate the season with ye!”

Maxwell Harper and his friends, Benton Pennyworth, Charles Wright, and James Townsend entered the home of farmer John Rowden on Christmas night, 1679, helping themselves to seats by his roaring fire. After singing a mirthful song, Mr. Harper demanded cups of the farmer’s pear wine for his group.

“Come now, John. T’is Christmas, is it not? A bit of your pear wine would supplement our singing.”

“Ay, Maxwell, and such celebrating has been outlawed by the government. Could ye not know this?”

“Of course we know it, John.  But a bit of revelry hurts none. Now where’s them cups?”

“There’ll be no cups for yer lot this night, Maxwell. Now kindly leave my residence, please.”

The four men stumbled out the farmer’s door, only to turn about as it shut. The men proceeded to throw stones and bones at the door until farmer John returned once again.

“Well, John, the least you could do is part with a few shillings on this glorious night.”

“Maxwell, I’ve nothing for the lot of yer. Now get ye behind me!”

With the door again slammed in their faces, Maxwell and his friends went off into the darkness to the next house on the road.

*

Neither Christmas nor its celebration disappeared totally during the ban. It was too popular amongst the common people for that to happen.  The British government repealed the law in 1681. The holiday was celebrated widely and wildly from 1687 to 1689. Thereafter, Massachusetts Bay Colony regained their charter and the public celebration of Christmas all but died out. In 1750, the Bay Psalm Book finally included some Christmas hymns and the 1786 Worcester Collection of Sacred Harmony, published by Isaiah Thomas, included Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

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The History of Christmas: Day 5 – The Change (322 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 5: The Change To A Christian Christmas – 322 CE

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The period around 280 years after the death of Christ held confusion for both the new Christian populace and those who worshiped the old Roman gods. The Emperor Constantine had given up the worship of the Sun god, Mithra, and was said to have converted to worshiping Jesus, of the Christians. In the earlier years of his reign, he officially proclaimed Christianity to be one of the state religions of Rome. The Emperor’s pronouncement resulted in stability throughout the realm though it brought misunderstandings for pagans and Christians alike.

The great majority of people in the Empire still celebrated the old pagan holidays, worshiping the gods and goddesses they had grown up to know. Constantine’s proclamation helped to decrease the persecution of Christians, and occurrences of such maltreatment began to back lash upon their pagan perpetrators. Constantine put it upon the shoulders of the Church of Rome to bring about the conversion of the Empire to Christianity with all haste.

It would be another three years until Constantine called together the first Council of Nicaea in an effort to solidify Christian beliefs throughout the Empire. At this point, he had just defeated Licinius and solidified his own rule as Emperor.

*

A year or two later, on a balcony above a street near the Temple of Saturn, two Christian leaders watch the Roman crowd below celebrating the festivities of Saturnalia. Their conversation might have gone like this:

“Father Vincentius, it will be difficult to get the people to give up this pagan celebrating in exchange for the pure worship of the child of the Holy Virgin. Listen to them down there.”

In the streets below, celebrating Romans were shouting, “Io Saturnalia!” and taking part publicly in every excess of vice known to man. On top of the release of moral restrictions, presents were passed around, small clay dolls and wax candles. Slaves were given temporary freedom and a mock king was chosen. The people celebrated as they do today at our modern Mardi Gras.

Vincentius looked out over the merriment. The longer he watched, the stronger an idea burned into his mind. “They celebrate the birth of the god Mithras, do they not?”

“Yes Father. Aurelian established the festival of Dies Invicti Solis – The Day of the Invincible Sun.”

“And wasn’t Constantine a worshiper of Mithras before accepting the true religion?”

“Again, that is true.”

“What we need to do, Vincentius, is to transfer these old pagan holidays to Christian holidays so the people won’t have to give up their old ways to become Christian.”

“Father Victor?”

“We have some time until next year. Dress our priests in the same sort of garb used by their pagan counterparts. We have power now and it should be used to establish a Christian hierarchy. Set up statues of the Apostles, Mary, and the Saints in the churches so it appears we worship more than one God. But most importantly, merge this Dies Invicti Solis and the Saturnalia and make it all one holiday celebrating the birth of the Christ child. We have the stories in Matthew and Luke. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Allow them their revelry for the sake of the conversion of millions.”

“You know Victor, there are people that dislike the fact that the Emperor has accepted our faith. They are spreading vicious rumors. My own brother told me his daughter was accosted on the street and asked why her father worships the son of a woman raped by Panthera, a Roman legionary.”

“Yes, Vincentius, I’m aware of such things. This is why we must make changes – to appeal to the people. If my plans are carried out, few will make issue of lies like that. We must get Constantine to agree and make public declarations. By this time next year the Saturnalia will be a Christian holiday and after a few years, the people won’t think twice about it.”

“I think we must continue to get Constantine to promote a council to solidify our beliefs as well. We need to put one face on our beliefs for all time, Vincentius. Will you support me in this?”

“Of course Father Victor. I certainly will.”

*

It all came about as planned. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was held in 325 AD and Victor and Vincentius were attendees. Twenty Church canons were agreed upon and those not agreeing to the formula were anathematized. The Christian religion, along with its celebration of Christmas had begun to take shape. Of course the narrative above is fictional, but the facts contained are historical and indisputable.