The sordid belly of past Christmas

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When the English Puritans banned Christmas in 1647, it was not without reason. When the American Puritans, in turn, banned Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681, it was not without reason either.

Christmas past was anything but innocent.

Until the middle of the 19th century, Christmas was a time of drunkenness and debauchery.

Men dressed as women, women dressed as men, servants dressed as masters, boys dressed as bishops, everyone either dressed as animals or wore a blackface – all to subvert the divine order in the security of anonymity.

Christmas was a carnival of drink, cross-dressing, violence and lust in which Christians were freed from the ethical standards expected of them the rest of the year.

No wonder the Puritans wanted to ban it.

The origins of the Christmas celebrations It was not until the 4th century that the Church of Rome recognized December 25 as the date of celebration of the birth of the Messiah. And he did so knowing full well that there was no biblical or historical reason to place the birth of Christ on that day.

There is evidence that the Romans worshiped Sol Invictus, their sun god, on December 25. But what the Romans really celebrated during the month of December was the Saturnalia, an end-of-harvest festival that ended with the winter solstice. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum pointed out in his acclaimed The Battle for Christmas, the early Church made a compromise: in return for the widespread celebration of Christ’s birth, it allowed the traditions of the Saturnalia to continue in the name of the savior.

Gifts, feasts, candles, gambling, promiscuity and disorder were the hallmarks of the Saturnalia. Add to that the holly, mistletoe and (much later) the tree, and we have a Christmas featuring a variety of pagan traditions.

But over time, Church leaders became increasingly disillusioned with how the carnival that was Saturnalia was simply taking place under a thin veneer of Christian piety.

Sixteenth-century bishop Hugh Latimer lamented that many Christians “dishonored Christ more during the 12 days of Christmas than during the 12 months elsewhere.” Lords and Ladies of Misrule In early modern England it was common practice to elect a “Lord of Misrule” to oversee Christmas celebrations. Revelers under the auspices of the “Lord” marched through the streets dressed in costume, drinking beer, singing Christmas carols, playing instruments, fornicating and causing property damage.

An account from Lincolnshire in 1637 tells of how revelers decided that the Lord should have a “Christmas wife” and brought her “a certain Elizabeth Pitto, daughter of the town’s pig herd”. Another man dressed as a vicar then married the Lord and the Lady, reading the entire service from the Book of Common Prayer, after which “the matter was taken to its maximum.” If they hadn’t taken the matter this far, the story goes, “there probably wouldn’t have been any harm.” Indeed, “the parties had time to repent at leisure in prison”. “December was called […] the Voluptuous Month “for a reason, wrote Reverend Rise Mather in 1687. Young men and women have often taken advantage of the moral laxity of the Christmas season to indulge in alcohol consumption and late night sex.

Unsurprisingly, these seasonal celebrations resulted in higher than usual birth rates in September and October, as well as actual rather than burlesque marriages.

Wassailing Even Christmas charity was far from innocent. Gifts, a feature of the season, were rarely offered freely but demanded with threats of mischief or violence.

In the practice known as “wassailing” in the 17th and 18th centuries, roving bands of poor men and boys asserted their Christmas right to enter the homes of the rich and claim the best and best food. drinks, singing: We came here to claim our right, And if you don’t open your door, We will lay you down on the floor.

Although most of the sailings ended without violence, the occasional stone was thrown through the window of a lord without charity. To the generous Lord, we could hope for the goodwill of the sailboats for the rest of the year.

Domesticating Christmas Ultimately, the Puritan’s efforts to ban Christmas were unsuccessful. The irreligious celebrations that marked past Christmases were too deeply ingrained in Western culture. But where the forces of religion failed, market forces would soon succeed in taming Christmas. The sordid behavior of past Christmases would replace another type of irreligion: consumerism.

Yet much of the sordid belly of past Christmas remains. That always a little too much to drink, overeating, reluctantly dating a coworker at the office party – all telltale signs that our oldest Christmas traditions are alive and well.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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