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

, 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.