Given how we are all looking forward to an almost normal Christmas it’s a safe bet that we will hear two things before and during it: bah humbug and that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas.
You can also double down on bah humbug opportunities by downloading, as a Christmas present, a free game which bah humbugs climate change deniers.
The bah humbug may date to Dickens but it still has force because Christmas is often a time of sadness for families who have lost relatives; and, the poor and the homeless (despite the best efforts of the Salvos and others) who can look at the windows of the shops they sleep near but not go in.
Moreover, a few glasses of alcohol are often enough to set off long-held family grudges and give some backyard cricketing dads and granddads heart attacks.
And in countries which persecute Christians as Christians once persecuted others and each other it can be a miserable time.
Christmas is one of those invented traditions Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger wrote about in their book The Invention of Tradition. In this case the invention was most probably by the early 4th century CE Roman Church and the 5th Century Eastern Church.
They started by inventing the alleged birth date on which the celebration occurs, which conveniently coincided with the Roman winter solstice festival Saturnalia, and thus invented a new tradition by absorbing an old one.
It was the same with Easter; the St Nicholas tradition (based on various Nordic gods); the Santa figure created for a Coca-Cola promotion; and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer for a Montgomery Ward Chicago sales promotion.
Much of the ways we currently celebrate Christmas – from Christmas trees to Christmas cards – are 19th century inventions largely driven by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
If all this had been current in the time of Oliver Cromwell he may well have advocated banning it. But the common myth that Cromwell personally ‘banned’ Christmas is just that – a myth. The Cromwell Association published a lengthy article in 2017 setting the record straight.
There is no doubt that the godly parliamentary party in the 1640s, working through and in Parliament, clamped down on saints’ and other holy days.
The most fervent evangelicals were opposed to Holy Days as Roman Catholic survivals while others were disturbed by the revelry and disorder associated with the ‘common people’s’ celebration of the day. Puritans and wowsers were much like those around today.
The Twelve Days of Christmas had been observed with public holidays, daily special religious services and on the Twelfth Night there were feasting and carnivals.
Turkey, beef, mince pies, plum porridge and specially-brewed Christmas ale were all available – if you had the money It was all a bit out of kilter with European celebrations – even in the Protestant states – simply because Britain didn’t bring its calendar in line with the Continental calendar until the mid-18th century.
In the late 16th century and early 17th century the godly started to frown on many of these traditions opposing waste, disorder and sin. By 1645 a group of ministers appointed by Parliament produced a Directory of Public Worship which recommended abolishing much of the fun and replacing it with lots of prayer.
In June 1647 the Long Parliament passed an Ordinance abolishing the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun but the days were still kept as days of prayer. It didn’t make much difference and by 1656 MPs were complaining that their neighbours were partying on.
There was talk about more legislation but nothing came of it. In practice there were also physical confrontations between some of the godly and the godly who wanted to party as well as pray.
Cromwell was undoubtedly in the party of the godly and was very probably sympathetic to them but, as the Cromwell Association article says: “there is no sign that Cromwell personally played a particularly large or prominent role in formulating or advancing the various pieces of legislation and other documents which restricted the celebration of Christmas.”
Meanwhile if you have to find a present for a game-loving child (which has the added advantage of being free) The George Mason Center for Climate Change Communications (4Cs) professor John Cook has launched his Cranky Uncle game,
It’s a smartphone game that uses critical thinking and cartoons which lets your child become an online Greta Thunberg fighting against dangerous climate change misinformation.
If you are doubtful about giving a child yet more reasons to live their life in a game world it’s fun but has a serious foundation.
According to 4Cs “The game uses a resilience-building technique known as active inoculation. In the game, players are mentored by a cartoon Cranky Uncle, who is dismissive of scientific evidence on climate change, vaccination, COVID-19, and other issues. As players learn the techniques used to deny science, they gain points on their quest to become a cranky uncle.”
You can download the game on iPhone here.
Declaration of interest: The blog is a Cromwell Association Life Member