Bridget Flanagan, from the Great Ouse Valley Trust, examines the claim that Cromwell banned Christmas.

The Christmas season is here! The commercial countdown is underway. Shops are stocked and glossy advertising campaigns entice us to buy gifts and goodies.

Our town centres have held Christmas markets and have switched on their Christmas lights with lots of razzamatazz, and an early visit from Santa.

It’s all good fun and lifts our spirits when the nights are lengthening and the weather worsens.

The winter solstice on December 22 is a much older festival than Christmas – and even though few of us celebrate it specifically, we welcome the turning of the year and the beginning of more daylight.

On December 25, Christians celebrate the nativity with worship and carols.

Families and friends gather together to exchange presents, feast and be merry. And then comes the end of the calendar year with New Year’s Eve and more celebrations and festivities.

Here in Huntingdonshire, one of our most famous citizens is often referred to as ‘the man who banned Christmas’.

Oliver Cromwell is controversial for many reasons, but there seems to be more legend than fact.

From the late 16th Century, before Cromwell’s Protectorate of 1653-58, Puritan leaders were openly critical of what they felt were excessive and wasteful celebrations that encouraged immoral behaviour over the Twelve Days of Christmas.

They also saw Christmas – ‘Christ’s mass’ – as a remnant of the pre-Reformation Catholic faith. In 1645, Parliament directed that Christmas, along with other festival days, should be spent in quiet and respectful contemplation.

In 1647, they went further and banned the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.

More legislation followed in the 1650s, but the law was unpopular and frequently not followed.

So is it fair to say that the ban was Cromwell’s doing? He may have been sympathetic towards it, and as Lord Protector he allowed the continuation of the ban.

But there’s no record of his views on the matter in his speeches or letters, and he was absent from the Parliamentary decision of 1647.

So we don’t know. A myth can sometimes be assumed to be history. Christmas celebrations were reinstated with the restoration of the monarchy – and we haven’t looked back since. 

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