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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




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.


History of Christmas: Day 4 – The Roman Saturnalia (16 BCE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 4: The Roman Saturnalia – 16 BCE


By all accounts, the celebration of Saturnalia, commemorating the dedication of the temple of Saturn, the god of the harvest, grew to be the largest and most popular in ancient Rome. By 16BCE, the festivities lasted a full week, starting on the seventeenth and ending around the twenty-third day of December.

At the temple, a massive couch would be placed in front of it and the ropes which tethered the statue of Saturn for the rest of the year were let loose. It was a time to eat, drink and be merry. Celebrants even replaced the traditional toga with the synthesis – a colorful, informal dinner clothing.

Saturnalia included both public and private celebrations. Schools closed and a special market, the Sigillaria, opened to the public. Public gambling, usually frowned upon, grew to be a highlight of the merriment. The tomfoolery included the switching of places between masters and slaves, though this did not subvert the status quo.


In the city of Rome, it is yet ten years before the birth of Christ. On December 17th, the festival of the Saturnalia has begun as two good friends meet in the street near the Temple of Saturn.

“Caelianus! Have you been to temple yet? Have they loosed his bonds?”

Quintis Nepius Caelianus smiled at his good friend. “Io Saturnalia, Sidonius. Yes, they’ve loosened the god and the holiday has officially begun.”

“Good! And as old Saturn has been liberated so shall young Romans be liberated for celebration! Will the sweet Paccia Marciana be accompanying you to the banquet today, Caelianus?”

“Again, yes. I’m sure that her beauty will recommend seats near the head of Saturn himself. Who will you be attending with? Spirited Poppaea or the lovely Didia?”

“A very good question. I have purchased candles for both of them but I fear if I ask one and not the other I shall be in dire straits. Still I am leaning toward Poppaea. Didia would certainly look grand on my arm, but Poppaea will be more fun to party with.”

Caelianus nodded. “Well deserved straits too, by my way of thinking. Poppaea would be an excellent choice for Saturnalia.”

“At any rate will the two of you visit my doma afterwards?”

“I can’t think of anywhere else we would rather celebrate the festival, Sidonius. How many other couples will be attending?”

“Fifty in all. It should be quite a party.”

“What of Durio and Ulpia?”

“Both confirmed. Is there still bad blood between you and Durio? Oh remember, no togas. Everyone will be comfortable and relaxed. There will be plenty of wine, food and gifts; enough to party for days.”

“There is nothing between Durio and me that can’t be put off for the holidays. That’s encouraging, Sidonius. What kind of gifts?”

“Sigillaria, of course. Statues for everyone!”

“Fascinating. I have quite a collection already. I must leave to gather my flower. The streets are already crammed and we don’t want to arrive late for the public feast. See you there, Sidonius. Io Saturnalia.”

“Io Saturnalia, Caelianus. Give my love to Paccia!”


The Saturnalia brought many firsts to the celebration of Christmas:  Schools being closed for the holiday, the giving of gifts, and public feasts are only a few.  One of the most noticeable to my mind is the salutation of “Io Saturnalia,” heard everywhere during the holiday.  This phrase became the forerunner of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.”