Everyone knows that the Calvinist-inspired group within the Church of England hated Christmas and anything fun. Why else wear plain black clothes and execute the king? (OK, maybe not entirely the last bit. Charles I wasn’t the sharpest at reading the political winds or listening to warnings about “this might not be a good time to do that.”)
Most famously, Oliver Cromwell and his associates in the colonies banned Christmas. No one could eat holiday foods, or sing Christmas carols, or have anything decorations like holly or ivy. People most certainly dared not enjoy themselves in any way. Why? Because the Puritans hated fun, and the Church of England, and anything they deemed to be immoral. So no plum pudding, Yule log, or eggnog.
*wags paw back and forth* Actually, if you look at some of the things associated with the popular celebrations of Christmas from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, you might start to agree with Cromwell and Co. that Christ had faded out of Christmas. And in truth, the Puritans had no objection to worship on the holy day, or reading the Scriptures and singing hymns and Psalms [the same thing in some sub-groups] appropriate to the day, and abstaining from work if one were worshipping in private. It was the twelve and more days of drunken, boisterous gluttony and waste, and public disorder that included brawls between towns and destruction of property that they objected to. And anything that resembled Catholic practices and superstitions.
Awareness of the pagan roots of some Christmas traditions also influenced the bans. “Popery” had co-opted some things that the purifiers of the faith deemed suspect at best and pure paganism otherwise. Readings that included texts not found in the Bible, stories about the childhood of the Virgin, holly and ivy and mistletoe… pouring cider on the roots of apple trees to encourage them to bear well in the coming year, the Yule log, that sort of thing smacked of non-Christian roots. The Puritans pointed to admonitions in the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles about not bowing to pagan customs, and to not tempting the weaker brothers and sisters. Some people could have a Yule log without being drawn into paganism, but others could not. Therefore it was better to do away with the non-religious aspects of the day, lest the weak be led into temptation and stumble.
Another doctrine also overlapped with concerns about public disorder and morality. According to some Puritan theologians, all days were equally holy, with the Sabbath set aside for rest and worship. If Christmas did not fall on the Sabbath, than it was just another day for labor and prayer. People were to engage in their spiritual as well as worldly vocations, pray, improve themselves and assist their neighbors, and do good works. This should happen every day, not just on designated “holidays.”
As you can imagine, the average non-Puritan responded about the way you’d expect, with protests, ignoring orders, riots, partying in private, and wassailing trees on the sly. After all, governments came and went, but if the trees and fields failed to bear fruit… After the end of the Commonwealth, the anti-Christmas laws were set aside in England, although New England continued to frown on such frivolous excesses well into the 1800s. Folklore collectors and music collectors still mourn what may have been lost in the transition from Catholic to Anglican to Catholic to Anglican to Puritan to Anglican (and later Methodist et al.), because the Church of England tightened up on what sorts of things were allowed during worship and around the holy days.
Now? Some people excoriate the “commercialization of Christmas,” others revel in the lights, parties, shopping, and other festivities. Some keep a healthy space between Yule and the Mass of Christ, others go into debt and overindulge in other things.
Me? I’m just sitting around, listening to Medieval and Renaissance Christmas and Advent music, eyeing the goodies piled up around the kitchen, and wondering just what is in (or on) that box that Athena T. Cat keeps trying to unwrap.