"" Writer's Wanderings: Christmas, Banned In Boston?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas, Banned In Boston?

Christmas? Banned? Say it isn't so.

Well, it isn't so today but it once was. The Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in the Boston area didn't consider Christmas a true religious day. To begin with, December 25 had been chosen as the date of Christ's birth several centuries after his death and resurrection. The celebration had traditionally included drinking, feasting, and playing games. All of that, of course, was frowned upon by the Puritans.

One of the traditions of Christmas back in the 1600s also included wassailing which on occasion turned violent. The custom often involved those of poorer neighborhoods going into wealthier areas and demanding food and drink in return for the group drinking to the host's health and good luck. If the host refused, it could get ugly, especially if the group had filled their cups often at previous homes. Wassail was a hot ale based drink with spices, roasted crab apples, sugar and cream.

As more and more British who were not Puritans settled in Boston, the problem of Christmas celebration led to the governing Puritan leaders establishing a law against celebrating Christmas. In 1659, the ban became law and a celebrant could be fined five shillings if caught. The ban only lasted 22 years until a British appointed governor repealed it.

Still many did not celebrate the holiday. As Reverend Increase Mather said in 1687 "The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those holidays (as they are called) after an holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth ..."

Today Boston celebrates much the same way the rest of the nation does with a tree lighting, concerts, shows, shopping, decorations and church services.

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