Christmas in Puritan New England

Christmas celebrations in New England were illegal during parts of the 17th century, and were culturally taboo or rare in former Puritan colonies from foundation until the mid-18th century. The Puritan community found no scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. Indeed, Christmas celebrations in 17th-century England involved Carnival-like behavior including role inversion, heavy drinking, and sexual liberties.[1]

The Puritan by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 18831886

The earliest years of the Plymouth Colony were troubled with non-Puritans attempting to make merry, and Governor William Bradford was forced to reprimand offenders. English laws suppressing the holiday were enacted in the English Interregnum, but repealed late in the 17th century. However, the Puritan view of Christmas and its celebration had gained cultural ascendancy in New England, and Christmas celebrations continued to be discouraged despite being legal. But by the mid-18th century, Christmas had become a mainstream celebration in New England, and by the beginning of the 19th century, ministers of Congregational churches, the church of the Puritans, actually called for formal observance of Christmas in the churches.[1]

When Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, late 19th century Americans widely fashioned the day into the Christmas of commercialism, spirituality, and nostalgia that most Americans recognize today.


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