When the Puritans came to the New World in 1620, they brought with them their strict ways, their religious views and their distaste for Christmas. Although Christmas was widely celebrated in Europe as a Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, Puritans saw it as a false holiday with stronger ties to Paganism than Christianity. Known for being pious and reserved, Puritans also took a dislike to the drinking and dancing associated with the holiday.
After the Puritans left the old world, they decided to leave these holiday traditions behind. Instead of feasting and giving gifts, Puritans commemorated Christmas by praying, reflecting on sin and working instead of resting.
On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature even went so far as to officially ban Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings. The legislature stated the ban was needed “For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such ffestivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”
|Scene from "A Christmas Carol"|
In the early 1800s, a religious revival spurred a renewed interest in Christmas. The holiday became popular again in the South, but it was slow to catch on in New England. In 1830, Louisiana was the first state to make Christmas a holiday. Other states followed suit and Christmas soon became popular again, especially during the Civil War. In 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” Later that year, the Massachusetts legislature finally made Christmas an official holiday in the state. Finally, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday, thus officially ending the Puritan war on Christmas.
The Day; Christmas Was Once Banned in Boston; December 1971
American Heritage; When Christmas Was Banned in Boston; Dana Marriott
Massachusetts Travel Journal: When Christmas Was Banned in Boston