Tag Archives: William Perkins

The Puritan war on Christmas

Puritan theologian William Perkins, considered a moderate in 1595 Cambridge, decried the practice of Christmas. It was, he wrote, a basically heathen day of “rifling, dicing, carding, masking, mumming” and assorted “licentious libertie”:

In New England, where dissenters worked to establish a truly Christian society, Christmas was frowned upon, and actually illegal for some years. Anyone caught celebrating in Massachusetts would be fined five shillings.

As Michael D. Hattem writes,
“Due to the penchant for disorder, immodesty, gluttony, and the (temporary) breakdown of the social order, it should come as no surprise that in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, English dissenters began to take a very dim view of the holiday. Indeed, the hotter the Protestant, the stronger the aversion to Christmas. But their opposition to Christmas was not just due to the overtly social nature of its celebration. Puritan faith derived wholly from scripture, and, in 1645 and again in 1647, the Long Parliament declared the abolition of all holy days except the Sabbath, which was the only day described as such in the Bible.”

It’s common to hear contemporary Christians make claims about the missing “true meaning” of Christmas. The Puritans of Early America might have countered that, if you understood the true meaning, you wouldn’t celebrate the sham holiday at all.

— Daniel Silliman