THE ADVOCATE 945
VOL. 76 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2018
By Ludmila B. Herbst, Q.C.*
It would be unsurprising for proponents of a secular or multicultural
society to protest state recognition of Christmas or the elevation of
Christmas over holidays celebrated by non-Christians. However, it
was a subcategory of Christians—the Puritans in the 1640s and
1650s—that, when ascendant in the English Parliament, sought to ban its
Elements of Christmas festivities by the 1600s would have looked quite
familiar to us today. Among those celebrating Christmas, December 25 was
considered to be the prime holy occasion among “12 nights” of festivity.
That time period was marked by church services, shortened business hours,
decorations such as holly and mistletoe, singing and much drinking and eating.
1 However, the 17th-century celebration was uglier and rowdier than it
is today, coinciding with a time of year during which the many farm workers
were at leisure and, after harvest, had access to unusually abundant
drink and food, some of which would spoil if not consumed.
The wild abandon associated with Christmas celebrations evidenced the
pagan roots that in themselves also disturbed Puritans. Among the Puritans’
stated reasons against celebrating Christmas was that the Bible did not tie
the nativity to a particular day or season, and that in December the weather
would have been too cold to make it feasible for shepherds to have been living
outside with flocks of sheep.2 Reflecting more general Puritan sentiments,
the Reverend Increase Mather later wrote in the staunchly Puritan
Massachusetts that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on
December 25 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
* Ludmila B. Herbst, Q.C., is the assistant editor of the Advocate.