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The Popular Love Of Christmas

And this was the general feeling. Parliament might sit, as we learn by
The Kingdome's Weekly Intelligencer, No. 152: Thursday, December
25, vulgarly known by the name of Christmas Day, both Houses sate. The
House of Commons, more especially, debated some things in reference to
the privileges of that House, and made some orders therein. But the
mass of the people quietly protested against this way of ignoring
Christ-tide, and notwithstanding the Assembly of Divines and
Parliament, no shops were open in London on that day, in spite of the
article published in No. 135 of Mercurius Civicus, or London's
Intelligencer, which explained the absurdity of keeping Christmas
day, and ordained that all shops should be opened, and that the
shopkeepers should see that their apprentices were at work on that
day. If they needed a holiday, let them keep the fift of November,
and other dayes of that nature, or the late great mercy of God in the
taking of Hereford, which deserves an especiall day of thanks giving.
It would not so much have mattered if all the Puritans had followed
the example of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, who, when the
time called Christmas came, when others were feasting and sporting
themselves, went from house to house seeking out the poor and
desolate, and giving them money.

Parliament, although they did their best by public example to do away
with it, sitting every Christmas day from 1644 to 1656, could not
extinguish the deep-rooted feeling in favour of its being kept up in
the old-fashioned way, and, in London, at Christmas 1646, those who
opened their shops were very roughly used, so much so that in 1647
they asked the Parliament to protect them in future. Certainly, in
that year, the shops were all closed, but the irrepressible love of
Christmas could not be controlled, and the porters of Cornhill
bedecked the conduit with Ivy, Rosmary, and Bays, and similar
decorations were exhibited in other parts of the City--a proceeding
which sorely exercised the Lord Mayor and the City Marshal, who rode
about, with their followings, setting fire to the harmless green
stuff--the doing of which occasioned great mirth among the Royalist

There were riots about the keeping of Christmas in several parts of
the country--notably one at Ealing, in Middlesex; but there was a
famous one at Canterbury,[8] the particulars of which are given in a
short tract, which I here reprint, as it shows the feeling in the

[Footnote 8: Canterbury Christmas; or, A True Relation of the
Insurrection in Canterbury on Christmas Day last, with the great hurt
that befell divers persons thereby.]

Upon Wednesday, Decem. 22, the Cryer of Canterbury by the
appointment of Master Major,[9] openly proclaimed that Christmas
day, and all other Superstitious Festivals should be put downe, and
that a Market should be kept upon Christmas day.

Which not being observed (but very ill taken by the Country) the
towne was thereby unserved with provision, and trading very much
hindered; which occasioned great discontent among the people, caused
them to rise in a Rebellious way.

The Major being slighted, and his Commands observed only of a few
who opened their Shops, to the number of 12 at the most: They were
commanded by the multitude to shut up again, but refusing to obey,
their ware was thrown up and down, and they, at last, forced to shut

The Major and his assistants used their best endeavours to qualifie
this tumult, but the fire being once kindled, was not easily quenched.

The Sheriffe laying hold of a fellow, was stoutly resisted; which
the Major perceiving, took a Cudgell, and strook the man: who,
being now puny, pulled up his courage, and knockt down the Major,
whereby his Cloak was much torne and durty, besides the hurt he

The Major hereupon made strict Proclamation for keeping the Peace,
and that every man depart to his own house.

The multitude hollowing thereat, in disorderly manner; the Aldermen
and Constables caught two or three of the rout, and sent them to the
Jaile, but they soon broke loose, and Jeered Master Alderman.

Soone after, issued forth the Commanders of this Rabble, with an
addition of Souldiers, into the high street, and brought with them two
Foot-balls, whereby their company increased. Which the Major and
Aldermen perceiving, took what prisoners they had got, and would
have carried them to the Jayle. But the multitude following after to
the King's Bench, were opposed by Captain Bridg, who was straight
knoct down, and had his head broke in two places, not being able to
withstand the multitude, who, getting betwixt him and the Jayle,
rescued their fellowes, and beat the Major and Aldermen into their
houses, and then cried Conquest.

Where, leaving them to breath a while, they went to one White's, a
Barber (a man noted to be a busie fellow), whose windowes they pulled
downe to the ground: The like they did to divers others, till night
overtook them, and they were forced to depart, continuing peaceable
the next day, it being the Saboth.

On Munday morning, the Multitude comming, the Major set a strong
watch with Muskets and Holbards in the City, both at the Gates and at
S. Andrews Church, the Captaine of the Guard was White the Barber.

Till noon, they were quiet, then came one Joyce, a Hackney man,
whom White bid stand, the fellow asked what the matter was, and
withall called him Roundhead; whereat White being moved, cocked
his Pistoll and would have shot him, but the Major wisht him to hold:
Neverthelesse he shot, and the fellow fell down, but was not dead.
Whence arose a sudden clamour that a man was murdered, whereupon the
people came forth with clubs, and the Major and Aldermen made
haste away; the Towne rose againe, and the Country came in, took
possession of the Gates, and made enquiry for White; they found him
in a hay loft, where they broke his head, and drag'd him in the
streets, setting open the Prison dores and releasing those that were
in hold.

Next, they vowed vengeance on the Major, pulling up his posts,
breaking his windowes; but, at last, being perswaded by Sir William
Man, Master Lovelise, Master Harris, and Master Purser, had
much adoe to persuade them from taking of his Person; so came
tumultuously into the high street, and their demands were so high,
that those Gentlemen could not perswade them. Afterward, meeting
Master Burly, the Town Clark, demanded the Keyes of the Prison from
him, which, being granted, they, with those Gentlemen formerly named,
went again to the Town Hall to Treat, and came to an agreement, which
was, that forty or fifty of their own men should keep the Town that
night, being compleatly armed, which being performed (the morning
issued) and they continued in arms till Tuesday morning: There are
none as yet dead, but diverse dangerously hurt.

Master Sheriffe taking White's part, and striving to keep the
Peace, was knockt down, and his head fearfully broke; it was God's
mercy his braines were not beat out, but it should seem he had a
clung[10] pate of his own.

They went also without S. George's gate, and did much injury to Mr.

As I am credibly informed, the injuries done are these.

They have beat down all the windowes of Mr. Major's House, burnt
the Stoups at the comming in of his dore, Master Reeves' Windowes
were broke, Master Page, and Master Pollen, one Buchurst,
Captaine Bridge, Thomas Harris, a busie prating fellow, and others
were sorely wounded.

It is Ordered that Richard White and Robert Hues, being in
fetters, be tryed according to the Law, and upon faire Composition,
the multitude have delivered their Armes into the Hands of the City,
upon engagements of the best of the City that no man shall further
question or trouble them.

On this Christmas day, Parliament,[11] on Saturday, December 25th,
commonly called Christmas day, received some complaints of the
countenancing of malignant ministers in some parts of London, where
they preach and use the Common Prayer Book, contrary to the order of
Parliament, and some delinquent Ministers have power given them to
examine and punish churchwardens, sequestrators, and others that do
countenance delinquent ministers to preach, and commit them, if they
see cause; upon which some were taken into Custody. One instance of
this is given in Whitelocke's Memorials (p. 286). Mr. Harris, a
Churchwarden of St. Martius, ordered to be committed for bringing
delinquents to preach there, and to be displaced from his office of

And so it went on, the Parliament and Nonconformists doing their best
to suppress Christ-tide, and the populace stubbornly refusing to
submit, as is shown in a letter from Sir Thomas Gower to Mr. John
Langley, on December 28, 1652.[12] There is little worth writing,
most of the time being spent in endeavouring to take away the esteem
held of Christmas Day, to which end, order was made that whoever would
open shops should be protected by the State; yet I heard of no more
than two who did so, and one of them had better have given L50, his
wares were so dirtyed; and secondly, that no sermons should be
preached, which was observed (for aught I hear) save at Lincoln's

Evelyn, who was a staunch Episcopalian, writes in deep despondency as
to the keeping of Christ-tide. 1652, Dec. 25, Christmas day, no
Sermon any where, no church being permitted to be open, so observed it
at home. The next day, we went to Lewisham, where an honest divine
preached. 1653, Dec. 25, Christmas-day. No churches, or public

assembly. I was fain to pass the devotions of that Blessed day with my
family at home. 1654, Dec. 25, Christmas-day. No public offices in
Churches, but penalties on observers, so as I was constrained to
celebrate it at home.

On November 27, 1655, Cromwell promulgated an edict, prohibiting all
ministers of the Church of England from preaching or teaching in any
schools, and Evelyn sadly notes the fact. Dec. 25. There was no more
notice taken of Christmas day in Churches. I went to London, where
Dr. Wild preached the funeral sermon of Preaching,[13] this being the
last day; after which, Cromwell's proclamation was to take place, that
none of the Church of England should dare either to preach, or
administer Sacraments, teach school, etc., on pain of imprisonment or
exile. So this was the mournfullest day that in my life I had seen, or
the Church of England herself, since the Reformation; to the great
rejoicing of both Papist and Presbyter. So pathetic was his discourse,
that it drew many tears from the auditory. Myself, wife, and some of
our family received the Communion: God make me thankful, who hath
hitherto provided for us the food of our souls as well as bodies! The
Lord Jesus pity our distressed Church, and bring back the captivity of

His next recorded Christ-tide was an eventful one for him, and he thus
describes it: 1657, Dec. 25. I went to London with my wife to
celebrate Christmas day, Mr. Gunning preaching in Exeter Chapel, on
Michah vii. 2. Sermon ended, as he was giving us the Holy Sacrament,
the Chapel was surrounded with soldiers, and all the Communicants and
assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them, some in the house,
others carried away. It fell to my share to be confined to a room in
the house, where yet I was permitted to dine with the master of it,
the Countess of Dorset, Lady Hatton, and some others of quality who
invited me. In the afternoon, came Colonel Whalley, Goffe, and others,
from Whitehall, to examine us one by one; some they committed to the
Marshal, some to prison. When I came before them, they took my name
and abode, examined me why, contrary to the ordinance made, that none
should any longer observe the superstitious time of the Nativity (so
esteemed by them), I durst offend, and particularly be at Common
Prayers, which they told me was but the Mass in English, and
particularly pray for Charles Stuart, for which we had no Scripture. I
told them we did not pray for Charles Stuart, but for all Christian
Kings, Princes, and Governors. They replied, in doing so we prayed for
the King of Spain, too, who was their enemy, and a Papist, with other
frivolous and ensnaring questions and much threatening; and, finding
no colour to detain me, they dismissed me with much pity of my
ignorance. These were men of high flight and above ordinances, and
spake spiteful things of our Lord's Nativity. As we went up to receive
the Sacrament, the miscreants held their muskets against us, as if
they would have shot us at the Altar, but yet suffering us to finish
the Office of the Communion, as, perhaps, not having instructions what
to do, in case they found us in that action. So I got home late the
next day: blessed be God!

Cromwell himself seems to have been somewhat ashamed of these
persecutions and severities, for[14] (25th December 1657) Some
Congregations being met to observe this day, according to former
solemnity, and the Protector being moved that Souldiers might be
sent to repress them, he advised against it, as that which was
contrary to the Liberty of Conscience so much owned and pleaded for
by the Protector and his friends; but, it being contrary to
Ordinances of Parliament (which were also opposed in the passing of
them) that these days should be so solemnized, the Protector gave
way to it, and those meetings were suppressed by the Souldiers.

But his life was drawing to a close, and with the Restoration of the
king came also that of Christ-tide, and there was no longer any need
of concealment, as Pepys tells us how he spent his Christmas day in
1662. Had a pleasant walk to White Hall, where I intended to have
received the Communion with the family, but I came a little too late.
So I walked up into the house, and spent my time looking over
pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the VIII.ths voyage to
Bullaen; marking the great difference between those built then and
now. By and by down to the Chapel again, where Bishop Morley[15]
preached upon the Song of the Angels, 'Glory to God on high, on earth
peace, and good will towards men.' Methought he made but a poor
Sermon, but long, and, reprehending the common jollity of the Court
for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days; he
particularized concerning their excess in playes and gaming, saying
that he whose office it is to keep the gamesters in order and within
bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duell, meaning the
groome-porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come
from taking the reprehensions of a bishop seriously, that they all
laugh in the Chapel when he reflected on their ill actions and
courses. He did much press us to joy in these public days of joy, and
to hospitality; but one that stood by whispered in my eare that the
Bishop do not spend one groate to the poor himself. The Sermon done, a
good anthem followed with vialls, and the King come down to receive
the Sacrament. But I staid not, but, calling my boy from my Lord's
lodgings, and giving Sarah some good advice, by my Lord's order, to be
sober, and look after the house, I walked home again with great
pleasure, and there dined by my wife's bed side with great content,
having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner,
and I sent for a mince pie abroad, my wife not being well, to make any
herself yet.

The popular love of Christmas is well exemplified in a little 16mo
book, printed in 1678, entitled The Examination and Tryal of old
Father CHRISTMAS; Together with his Clearing by the Jury, at the
Assizes held at the Town of Difference, in the County of
Discontent. The Jury was evidently a packed one. Then saith the
Clerk to the Cryer, count them--Starve-mouse, one, All-pride,
two, Keep-all, three, Love-none, four, Eat-alone, five,
Give-little, six, Hoard-corn, seven, Grutch-meat, eight,
Knit-gut, nine, Serve-time, ten, Hate-good, eleven,
Cold-kitchen, twelve.

Then saith the Cryer, all you bountiful Gentlemen of the Jury,
answer to your names, and stand together, and hear your Charge.

With that there was such a lamentable groan heard, enough to turn Ice
into Ashes, which caused the Judge, and the rest of the Bench, to
demand what the matter was; it was replied that the grave old
Gentleman, Christmas, did sound (swoon) at the naming of the Jury;
then it was commanded that they should give him air, and comfort him
up, so that he might plead for himself: and here, I cannot pass by in
silence, the love that was expressed by the Country people, some
shreeking and crying for the old man; others striving to hold him up,
others hugging him, till they had almost broke the back of him,
others running for Cordials and strong waters, insomuch that, at last
they had called back his wandring spirits, which were ready to take
their last farewel.

Christmas challenged this jury, and another was empanelled consisting
of Messrs Love-friend, Hate-strife, Free-man, Cloath-back,
Warm-gut, Good-work, Neighbour-hood, Open-house, Scorn-use,
Soft-heart, Merry-man, and True-love. His Indictment was as

Christmas, thou art here indicted by the name of Christmas, of
the Town of Superstition, in the County of Idolatry, and that thou
hast, from time to time, abused the people of this Common-wealth,
drawing and inticing them to Drunkenness, Gluttony, and unlawful
Gaming, Wantonness, Uncleanness, Lasciviousness, Cursing, Swearing,
abuse of the Creatures, some to one Vice, and some to another; all to
Idleness: what sayest thou to thy Inditement, guilty or not guilty? He
answered, Not guilty, and so put himself to the Trial.

After the witnesses against him were heard, Christmas was asked what
he could say in his defence.

Judge.--Old Christmas, hold up thy head, and speak for thy self.
Thou hast heard thy inditement, and also what all these Witnesses have
evidenced against thee; what sayest thou now for thy self, that
sentence of condemnation should not be pronounced against thee?

Christmas.--Good my Lord, be favourable to an old man, I am above
One thousand six hundred years old, and was never questioned at Sizes
or Sessions before: my Lord, look on these white hairs, are they not a
Crown of Glory?...

And first, my Lord, I am wronged in being indited by a wrong name, I
am corruptly called Christmas, my name is Christ-tide or time.

And though I generally come at a set time, yet I am with him every
day that knows how to use me.

My Lord, let the Records be searcht, and you shall find that the
Angels rejoyced at my coming, and sung Gloria in excelsis; the
Patriarchs and Prophets longed to see me.

The Fathers have sweetly imbraced me, our modern Divines all
comfortably cherisht me; O let me not be despised now I'm old. Is
there not an injunction in Magna Charta, that commands men to
inquire for the old way, which is the good way; many good deeds do I
do, O, why do the people hate me? We are commanded to be given to
Hospitality, and this hath been my practice from my youth upward: I
come to put men in mind of their redemption, to have them love one
another, to impart with something here below, that they may receive
more and better things above; the wise man saith There is a time for
all things, and why not for thankfulness? I have been the cause that
at my coming, Ministers have instructed the people every day in
publick, telling the people how they should use me, and other
delights, not to effeminate, or corrupt the mind, and bid them abhor
those pleasures from which they should not rise bettered, and that
they should by no means turn pass-time into Trade: And if that at any
time they have stept an Inch into excess, to punish themselves for it,
and be ever after the more careful to keep within compass.

And did also advise them to manage their sports without Passion; they
would also tell the people that their feasts should not be much more
than nature requires, and grace moderates; not pinching, nor
pampering; And whereas they say that I am the cause they sit down to
meat, and rise up again graceless, they abundantly wrong me: I have
told them that before any one should put his hand in the dish, he
should look up to the owner, and hate to put one morsel in his mouth
unblessed: I tell them they ought to give thanks for that which is
paid for already, knowing that neither the meat, nor the mouth, nor
the man, are of his own making: I bid them fill their bellies, not
their eyes, and rise from the board, not glutted, but only satisfied,
and charge them to have a care that their guts be no hindrances to
their brains or hands, and that they should not lose themselves in
their feasts, but bid them be soberly merry, and wisely free. I also
advise them to get friendly Thrift to be there Caterer, and Temperance
to carve at the board, and be very watchful that obscenity, detraction
and scurrility be banisht the table; but let their discourse be as
savoury as the meat, and so feed as though they did live to eat, and,
at last, rise as full of thankfulness, as of food; this hath, this is,
and this shall be my continual practice.

Now, concerning the particulars that these folks charge me with, I
cannot answer them, because I do not remember them; my memory is but
weak, as old men's use to be; but, methinks, they seem to be the seed
of the Dragon; they send forth of their mouths whole floods of impious
inventions against me, and lay to my charge things which I am not
guilty of, which hath caused some of my friends to forsake me, and
look upon me as a stranger: my brother Good-works broke his heart
when he heard on it, my sister Charity was taken with the
Numb-palsie, so that she cannot stretch out her hand....

Counsel was heard for him as well as witnesses examined on his behalf,
and the Jury brought him in, Not Guilty, with their own judgement
upon it. That he who would not fully celebrate Christmas should
forfeit his estate. The Judge being a man of old integrity, was very
well pleased, and Christmas was released with a great deal of
triumph and exaltation.

Next: Commencement Of Christ-tide

Previous: Attempts Of Puritans To Put Down Christ-tide

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