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December 25, 2010
Where is the Legislation That Banned Christmas?
A republication of LLB's Dec. 25, 2007 post.
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, though from what we know of his faith and beliefs it is likely that he was sympathetic towards and supported such measures, and as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658 he supported the enforcement of the existing measures.
I see. He was just a fellow-traveler. The Cromwell Association explains that it was "the broader Godly or parliamentary party, working through and within the elected parliament, which in the 1640s clamped down on the celebration of Christmas and other saints’ and holy days."
OK but where is this legislation? Nigel Jamieson, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Otago, New Zealand, has found it and his delightful tale of the research that went into locating the Ordinance 360 years after the fact is published in Oliver Cromwell—The Grinch That Stole Christmas, 26 Statute L. Rev. 189 (2005) [Westlaw (user account and plan coverage required)].
Although without royal assent, The Ordinance, bearing the date of 4 January 1645 and resolved upon before both Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, provides in its 'Appendix touching Dayes and Places for Publique Worship':
There is no Day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the Gospel, but the Lord's Day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
Festival dayes, vulgarly called Holy dayes, having no Warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.
Jamieson explains that the application of this general prohibition against feast-days to the specific celebration of Christmas is clear from an earlier Ordinance, dated 19 December 1644, 'for the better observation of the monethly Fast; and more especially the next Wednesday, commonly called The Feast of the Nativity of Christ, Thorowout the Kingdome (sic) of England and Wales'. This Ordinance provided:
Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next Fast shall be celebrated, because it falleth on the day which heretofore was usually called the feast of the Nativity of our Saviour. The Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled doe order and ordaine that publique notice be given that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every moneth, ought to be observed until it be otherwise ordered by both Houses of Parliament: And that this day in particular is to be kept with the more solemne humiliation, because it may call to remembrance our sinnes, and the sinnes of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ into an extreme forgetfulnessse of him, by giving liberty to carnall and sensuall delights, being contrary to the life which Christ himselfe led here upon earth, and to the spirituall life of Christ in our soules for the sanctifying and saving whereof Christ was pleased both to take a humane life, and to lay it down againe.
Probably only English legal historians and law librarians will appreciate Jamieson's research narrative. To them, I say, enjoy the pleasure of reading this article about the process of legislative research and legal authentication. Merry Christmas. [JH]