| Christmas Dissolved
Part 1. English Puritanism
Christmas in general was dealt a severe setback in 17th Century England. "Puritans" was the name given in the 16th century to an extreme group of Protestants within the Church of England who thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church; they wanted to purify their national church by eliminating every shred of Catholic influence. In addition, they wanted the Church of England purified of any liturgy, ceremony, or practices which were not found in Scripture. Thus, the name of "Puritans." The Bible was their sole authority, and they believed it applied to every area and level of life.
Attempts by the Puritans to gain concessions from the Crown were fruitless. Ultimately, words led to blows, and blows to war. The monarchy was overthrown, and the Puritans seized power. For those with an interest in historical matters, click here for An Overview of the English Civil War
The Puritans began to make major cultural changes. The first attack against Christmas was struck on September 2, 1642, when the largely Puritan Parliament outlawed the performance of plays – including Christmas pageants and plays.  The theatres were closed. Another ordinance of February 11, 1647, would declare all stage players to be rogues, and ordered that all stage galleries, seats and boxes were to be pulled down. Any actor at a future stage play would be publicly whipped, and spectators could be fined five shillings.
Parliament enacted an ordinance on February 15, 1642-43, which included a bill entitled "An Act for the suppression of divers innovations in churches and chapels in and about the worship of God and for the due observation of the Lord’s Day, and the better advancement of preaching God’s Holy Word in all parts of the kingdom." The bill required, inter alia:
The bill provided an exception for images, pictures or monuments for the dead. Church organs were also moved from many churches. 
Shortly thereafter, On September 10, 1643, the Puritans abolished the previous liturgy and its musical accompaniment, especially in cathedrals and college chapels.  At the same time, the act abolished all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries, and the vicar choral and chorister.
The houses of parliament in England ordered the Westminster Assembly of Divines on October 12, 1643 to turn their attention to the government and worship for the English Church. Most of the Divines  were from the ranks of the Puritans who disagreed with the worship and hierarchical practices of the Anglican church. In particular, the ordinance of Parliament which called the Divines together had two specific goals in mind:
The Assembly opened on Saturday July 1, 1643 in the Abbey Church in Westminster. One of the first items on the agenda was to address the following proposition: "Festival days, vulgarly [commonly] called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued." The debate continued up to Friday, December 22nd, but could not be completed. At that time, one of the Divines made the following proposition: ‘That the Assembly would determine whether there should be any sermon upon Christmas-day:’ However, the Divines decided that it was premature to decide this issue. 
The next question how long the Assembly should adjourn. Some wanted to hold sessions on Christmas-day, but the majority generally thought otherwise; and the Assembly adjourned till "after the fast," that is until Thursday, December 28th. Later that day, however, the city-ministers met together to consult whether or not they should preach on Christmas-day. Among them there was a Mr. Edmund Calamy,  from whom we shall hear further, and two other members of the Assembly. When Mr. Calamy began to incline that there should be no sermon on that day, and was like to sway the company that way, Mr. John Lightfoot  (photo above left) of the Assembly took him aside, and asked him to consider several points, which they then discussed. Mr. Lightfoot’s arguments persuaded Mr. Calamy to change his mind; and he also prevailed with the company. The city ministers voted to preach on Christmas day, although most stated that they would preach against the superstition that Christ was born on December 25th. A few ministers declined to preach at all. 
I have been unable to locate any support for the widely repeated assertion that in 1643, the Parliament officially abolished the celebration of Christmas.  That action, however, was not long in coming.
In 1641, the King, at the request of Parliament of January 8, 1641, had ordered a monthly fast, which would be kept on the last Wednesday of each month.  As it happened, Christmas fell on the last Wednesday of December, 1644. Parliament was then faced with a dilemma: the feast or the fast. On December 19, 1644, after some debate, Parliament made up its mind and decreed that December 25th was to be observed as a day of fasting and repentance. Parliament wrote, in part:
Contemporaries reported that this pronouncement was met with widespread opposition and disturbances throughout England – even including a few Presbyterian ministers. The people did not want their Christmas – however flawed in its observance – to be abolished. 
Mr. Edmund Calamy, Rectory of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, preached the following on Christmas Day, 1644, before the House of Lords:
Parliament held sessions on December 25th from 1644 through 1656. 
On June 8, 1645, the Parliament abolished the observance of Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide , and the Saint’s days. Parliament’s ordnance stated, in part:
But at Christmas 1645, open rioting occurred when shops were opened on Christmas Day.  Routley quoted Daniel Neal, The History of the Puritans [Neal, 1, pp 55-56]:
The Puritan Parliament in 1647 and 1652 – again – officially abolished Christmas and other festivals altogether. On June 3, 1647, Parliament passed an order that the feast of the Nativity of Christ could not be celebrated with other holy days. And on December 24, 1652, parliament proclaimed that "no observance shall be hand of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Chyristmas [sic] day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof." 
The Flying Eagle, a small gazette, published the following account of the proceedings of Parliament on December 24, 1652:
Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans were determined to outlaw the practice of caroling despite the support for carols by Cromwell’s his friend and supporter, John Milton.  Another defender of carol-singing was the Anglican divine, Thomas Warmstry, whose 1648 tract, The Vindication of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Christ, argued that `Christmasse Kariles, if they be such as are fit for the time, and of holy and sober composures, and used with Christian sobriety and purity, are not unlawful, and may be profitable, if they be sung with grace in the heart'. 
Notwithstanding these arguments, Christmas Carols were banned by the Puritans beginning in 1649; only songs from a psalm-book (or psalter) were permitted.  As Routley notes, the only "allowed" Christmas carols were those of "holy and sober composers, and used with Christian sobriety and piety…." In short, quoting Edward Bliss Reed, ‘… there is more of the puritan than of the waissailer in their spirit." 
Charles W. Jones relates that in England the Puritans could not end customs of Christmas, however stringently legislated against.  However, the Puritans caused significant disruptions of traditions. John Evelyn wrote in his diary on 25 December 1652 (and also in 1653): "Christmas Day, no sermon anywhere, no church being permitted to open, so observed it at home." This was a common occurrence; the Puritans wanted to end the public observations of Christmas, but were indifferent to private observations. 
The Roundheads were uncompromising; some delighted in holding Parliament on Christmas Day. The following remarks were recorded on the floor of Parliament 25 December 1656:
The restoration of the monarchy (1660) also restored Anglicanism, and the Puritan clergy were expelled from the Church of England under the terms of the Act of Uniformity (1662).
Even though Christmas was again observed in England after the Restoration in 1660, carols continued an underground existence for generations primarily in rural England.  Almost no new "carols" were published in England during the following 150 years. However, a tradition that strong could not be entirely suppressed. Some carols that were composed included
And although Christmas was once again observed in England, the same was not true in Scotland, where the conservatives held sway for nearly three centuries. For more information, see the fascinating article by Amy McNeese, Christmas In Scotland, originally published in the Church of Scotland magazine, Life & Work, and reprinted at the Scottish Christian web site. According to Ms. McNeese, Christmas was not a public holiday in Scotland until 1958.
1. Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Christmas Carol (New York: Avenel Books, 1976), p. 2. Return
2. Daniel Neal, History of the Puritans, Volume 1, pp 445-446 Return
3. G. E. Aylmer, Rebellion of Revolution? England from Civil War to Restoration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) Return
4. 'Divines' as they were called in their day because they studied divinity or theology. Return
5. The source for this paragraph and the following paragraph is Chris Coldwell, "The Religious Observance of Christmas and ‘Holy Days’ in American Presbyterianism," Copyright © 1999 First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, quoting from the journal of John Lightfoot, "The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot" (London: 1824). Return
6. Edmund Calamy (1600-1666) was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. He was successively bishop's chaplain at Ely, vicar of St. Mary, Swaffham Prior, and then lecturer at Bury St. Edmunds in 1626, where Jeremiah Burroughs was his fellow laborer. Though he was first neutral as to the ceremonies of the English high church, he later strongly opposed the policies of William Laud. In 1639 he was elected to the curacy of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, where he was instrumental in ordaining Christopher Love to the gospel ministry. He was a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly as a presbyterian. In 1662, he was ejected from his pulpit for non-conformity and was briefly imprisoned. In fact, such was the hostility towards the ejected ministers that on one occasion, Calamy went to a worship service at the church where he had pastored; the speaker failed to appear, so Calamy was asked to preach, which he did gladly. For this he was arrested and imprisoned. His last years were spent in quiet retirement. None of his sermons or works have gone into modern printing, although a number of them can be found on the Internet. Calamy preached funeral sermons for Samuel Bolton, Christopher Love, and Simeon Ashe. Source: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries [Link to biographical page broken, 8 January 2004] Return
7. John Lightfoot (1602-1675) later Master of Catherine Hall, Cambridge, and Prebendary of Ely. Routley, p. 120. John Lightfoot was born in 1602, the son of a rector. He was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge. His great love was studying the Hebrew language and Hebrew antiquities. He held several pastorates, accepting one for the main reason that it would give him access to the Hebrew treasures at Sion College in London. In 1643 he was appointed to be one of the members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and took active part in the debates. He kept a record of the minutes, which are most helpful in any study of the proceedings of that important body of men. Ordained as a Presbyterian, he bowed to the Act of Uniformity in 1662, and then was quite loose in his adherence to its demands. He died in 1675, leaving behind a large body of work, much of it in Latin. His works were reprinted in 13 volumes in the 19th century, but only the final volume on the proceedings of the Westminster Assembly has been reprinted in this century. Most of his work is devoted to commentary on New Testament books based upon his knowledge of the Talmud and other Hebrew documents. Source: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries [Link to biographical page broken, 8 January 2004]. Also see http://www.kth-linz.ac.at/institute/at/lightfoot/welton01.htm Return
8. See Appendix C, Notes from Neal's History of the Puritans and Certain Puritan Theologians. Return
9. Or that clergymen are imprisoned for preaching on December 25th; that Parish officers at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, are fined for decorating the church with rosemary and bay; and that riots broke out in protest of the banishment. Return
10. And in 1642, on the eve of civil way, Parliament published an ordinance for the more strict observation of the fast, "in order to implore a divine blessing upon the consultations of parliament, and to deprecate the calamities that threatened this nation." Coldwell, quoting Daniel Neil, The History of the Puritans (London, 1837) Return
11. Quoted by Chris Coldwell, "The Religious Observance of Christmas and ‘Holy Days’ in American Presbyterianism;" and Eric Routley, The English Carol (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), page 120-1. Cf. Neal, 1, page 500. Return
12. Routley, page 121, quoting Daniel Neal, History of the Puritans, 1732. [Neal, 1, page 500] Return
13. Quoted by Coldwell, and also by Routley, p. 121. Return
14. The fact that Parliament in England and the Puritans in New England felt it necessary to pass such laws would indicate widespread opposition to the abolition of Christmas. Return
15. Also known as Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of the crucified Jesus. The Christian Church has observed this day as the birthday of the Church. In ancient times, converts were baptized at this time. Return
16. Quoted by Coldwell. Return
17. Routley, page 122. Neal, Volume 2, pp 55-56. Return
18. Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Christmas Carol, p. 2. Return
19. Quoted by Washington Irving, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1820), Note C. This quotation followed a passage in the sketch "Christmas Day" which described the sermon at church services that morning:
20. Some sources cite selections from Milton’s Paradise Lost in support of Milton’s support for carols. However, Paradise Lost was not published until 1667, well after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Return
21. Ian Bradley, Op. Sit. Return
22. And, in 1654, the Puritan Parliament required the practice of "lining-out", the practice of having each line read by a minister, parish clerk or precentor before it was sung by the congregation. The ordinance read: "that the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a psalm-book, and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm line by line before the singing thereof." In the United States, this practice was known as "Deaconing." The Act was entitled "The Directory for the Public Worship of God." See Neal, Volume 2, page 468. Return
23. Routley, page 123. Return
24. Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, at page 321 Return
25. Coldwell, quoting Neal, 458. Return
26. It might just be a coincidence, but some 150 years later, Clement Moore would use a similar phrase: ‘Not a creature was stirring, [not even a mouse.]" Return
27. In part, this was a result of the ascendancy of the psalter as the major source of congregational singing. Return
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