Course overview

It’s popularly believed that Oliver Cromwell and his period of rule known as the Protectorate banned Christmas. This one off course will seek to investigate this belief and consider what truly occurred in the period of the English Civil War and the years after. Our discussions will focus on the following questions and issues: • the nature of the Stuart Christmas. • the religious background during the early seventeenth century which contributes to the ‘banning’ of Christmas. • how Christmas was argued over in print and art. • how society in a broad sense reacted to the threat to centuries of tradition that such a banning of Christmas implied. • Why the banning of Christmas proved ineffective.

Course description

In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it a popish festival with no biblical justification, and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. This act was the culmination of more than 60 years of schismatic division in the English Church, a schism which was a major factor in the outbreak of the English Civil Wars.

This course will explore the schism in the Church and investigate why the Puritan faction in England viewed Christmas as being Popish and immoral, asking what was it about the traditions and customs of the English Christmas that was inimical to their religious perspective. We shall discover an ugly fundamentalism about hardline Puritanism, centred on the figure of Cromwell, a figure, who though regarded as a father of English democracy, was in essence, a theocrat.

This course will also explore the social impact that this banning of Christmas had on local communities through the length and breadth of the nation, and how traditional Christmas observances and celebrations continued in subterranean forms until the ‘ban’ was revoked. We will focus as far as is possible in our discussions on the words of contemporary documents and examples drawn from woodcuts, broadsheets and pamphlets.

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