Cromwell cancels Christmas (or did he?)

Oliver Cromwell statue
As we're all facing restrictions on our Christmas festivities this year, we're taking a look back at the 17th century and tackling the myth that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas.

It's important to understand the context of the times. In the 1600s there was much disgust at the money-raising actions of King Charles I, and Puritanical Protestants distrusted his religious policies, which were in favour of ceremonial worship rather than the more austere approach they favoured. 

So when Civil War broke out in 1642, Parliament's puritans had the opportunity to push forward their beliefs across the country. 

They disliked religious festivals because they encouraged immoral ideas, and only Sunday was considered to be a holy day.  

So in 1644, as Parliament was gaining the upper hand in the Civil War, MPs ruled that feasts at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun should be abolished.

Yet many Puritans still felt that the religious idea behind Christmas had been lost  to frivolous celebrations, so in 1645 they went one step further and produced a new ruling that festival days must not be celebrated at all. 

Instead, people were told to spend them in respectful contemplation. Carol singing and mince pies were outlawed and there was an attempt to rename the day as 'Christ tide', to remove the link to Catholic mass. 

Christmas, as we know it, had been banned!

Yet to lay this at the door of Oliver Cromwell is unfair. As these rules were being made, he was still a rising star in the New Model Army and a long way from his Lord Protector role that began in 1653. 

This was very much a collective decision driven by the Protestant Puritans. When Cromwell came to power he maintained all these Christmas curbs, but it was Parliament that was calling the shots.  

Yet, these attacks on Christmas were hugely unpopular and the people across England and Wales fought for their rights to celebrate, with pro Christmas riots breaking out. 

When Cromwell died he was replaced by his son, who proved ineffective and resigned the role. Unable to find a suitable leader, Parliament invited Charles II to return to the throne.

Charles, who had a much less puritanical outlook than Parliament (in later years he became known as the Merry Monarch) restored the traditional Christmas festivities and the country was able to celebrate again.  

Want to find out more about the English Civil Wars? Start with our expert led tour based in Oxford. 

Picture credit: Oliver Cromwell Statue, Steve Punter, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons