HISTORIC HURRAH: WILLIAM WINSTANLEY SAVES CHRISTMAS

William Winstanley

Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan followers didn’t approve of Christmas. Oliver and Co. didn’t approve of a lot of things, but they REALLY didn’t like Christmas. All that fun and frivolity was sure to lead people into sin, and they couldn’t have that. They felt that celebrating Christ’s birth with twelve days of merriment (as was then the custom) was just asking for trouble. If it had to be celebrated at all, they said, it should be with fasting and prayer, and wanted businesses to remain open on Christmas Day as if it were just any other day. From the time they came into power in 1642 they tried to do away with Christmas (which they preferred to call Christ-tide, as the ‘mass’ bit was offensively papist), but it wasn’t until December, 1647 that Parliament actually outlawed the holiday. Those who decorated their homes, prepared feasts, went a-wassailing, attended special Christmas services, or did anything else remotely festive were subject to fines, a spell in the stocks, and even imprisonment.
Even so, Christmas celebrations did not disappear. They were just held in secret. One household that definitely kept Christmas was that of William Winstanley, a writer and historian who lived in the village of Quendon. Though pious, William Winstanley believed Christmas was a time of joy and fellowship, and he and his family and friends held clandestine Christmases until England’s monarchy was restored in 1660, and with it, Christmas.
Trouble was, the country had been without Christmas for a long time, and many people had either forgotten how to celebrate it, or no longer felt inclined to do so. Writing under the pseudonym, Poor Robin Goodfellow, William Winstanley promoted its reinstatement and offered up ideas for honouring Christ’s birth with games, feasting, decorations, carol-singing, and, of course, church attendance, just like in the good old days. Prominent people– including the new king (Charles II) – endorsed his endorsement and by the late 1680s, Christmas was back on track.

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