The Pilgrims Who Stole Christmas

Nearly Forgotten History on the Coast Series

The Pilgrims Who Stole Christmas

Puritans of Plymouth, MA ca 1621

by m/v Dyad

Leaving England and Christmas Behind

The group of Puritans, we know as pilgrims, left England to escape religious persecution. It seems a bit ironic that they viewed Christmas as a pagan holiday, choosing to ignore it.

Puritans were a religious group that splintered from the Church of England. They harbored strict and severe world views. Though Christmas was celebrated all over Europe at that time, the Puritans believed the Yuletide held stronger ties to paganism than to their Christianity. Other holidays were equally offensive to them.

They came up with a workable solution. They could make passage to the New World where they could leave all holiday traditions behind and live as they please without being subjected to merriment.

In 1620, one hundred and two Puritans boarded the s/v Mayflower and crossed the Atlantic. The Mayflower anchored in Provincetown Harbor. After spending a miserable winter in what is now Provincetown, MA they sailed to the mainland where they stepped off the boat onto a rock, and founded Plymouth.

Tenaciously sticking to their ways, the Puritans forced newly arriving colonists to abide by their ways as well; even though most of the new comers were non-Puritans.

Governor William Bradford was appalled when non-Puritans played games in the street on Christmas day 1621. He insisted they either work or pray. No reveling allowed.

By 1659, enough was enough. The Massachusetts Bay Colony Legislature officially banned Christmas. A fine of five shillings was to be imposed upon anyone who took the day off, or feasted, or made merry.

The ban was lifted in 1681 when a surge of holiday-observing European immigrants hit the shores. Needless to say, the Puritans were not amused. Though celebrating Christmas was legal again it maintained a fairly low profile. Interest gained momentum slowly. It wasn't until 1870 that Christmas was declared a National Holiday.

Today we celebrate and observe a wide variety holiday traditions clustered around the winter solstice and the turn of the new year. Reveling is permitted.

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All locations in the Nearly Forgotten History of the Coast Series are accessible by water.


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