Did Oliver Cromwell really cancel Christmas?

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell - Credit: Archant

A piece written by Stuart Orme, the curator of the Cromwell Museum asks did Oliver Cromwell really cancel Christmas? 

Journalists and politicians, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have been invoking the name of Oliver Cromwell in recent days, with discussions over whether the British public can safely celebrate Christmas during the current pandemic.  

Cromwell’s name has been brought up as being associated with the banning of Christmas in the 1640s, which is the subject of a new display at the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon.  

The display looks at the true story of the ban and whether Cromwell had any involvement with it. 

Christmas was outlawed progressively by Parliament from 1644 onwards, as many Puritan MPs objected to what they saw as Catholic religious practices and too much drunkenness and debauchery. It was finally banned by law in June 1647, when Christmas services and festivities were proscribed, shops were to remain open and fines introduced for non-compliance.  

The ban was very unpopular, leading to riots in certain parts of the country, and pamphlets published such as the ‘Vindication of Christmas’ which encouraged people to break the ban. The new display looks at the reasons behind the bans and whether it was successful. 

Stuart said: “One of the things that most people think they know about Oliver Cromwell is that he banned Christmas, it’s one of the most persistent myths in British history. In reality, he had little or no involvement with it and has become associated with the ban simply as he’s the Parliamentarian from this period that we’ve all heard of.” 

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“It’s questionable how effective the Christmas ban really was in the 1640s.  

“Given how difficult it’s been to enforce some of the Covid-19 restrictions over the last few months, you can imagine how hard it would have been to enforce a Christmas ban 350 years ago.” 

The ‘Christmas was Cancelled’ Exhibit is at the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon and runs until January 24 during normal Museum opening hours.  

For more information and to keep up to date visit the Museum’s website at www.cromwellmuseum.org