I've read various articles/questions/answers that claim Oliver Cromwell took it upon himself to ban Christmas in the U.K. The Puritans were also implicated. Is this true, or is it an unfounded rumour put about by the "Bah! Humbug!" brigade? Source: When Christmas Carols were banned.

I didn't dare post this question till now for fear of upsetting people. Personally, I don't do the feasting, drinking and gift-giving stuff, but then again, I'm not a Puritan.

By the way, this is a light-hearted post-Christmas question and is not intended to offend anybody.

Is there any evidence to suggest Oliver Cromwell was a complete "Scrooge"?

2 Answers 2


Did Oliver Cromwell ban Christmas or is this an unfounded rumour?

The short answer is very possibly. He seemed to have a finger in the mix. After all he was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653-58! Without that office would Christmas have remained a free expression of faith, especially for Catholics? He naturally disliked anything Catholic or relating to the Roman Catholicism especially the Pope.

A Cromwellian Christmas

It's certainly true that, during Cromwell's reign as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653-58), stricter laws were passed to catch anyone holding or attending a special Christmas church service. From 1656, legislation was enacted to ensure that every Sunday was stringently observed as a holy day - the Lord's Day. By contrast, shops and markets were told to stay open on 25 December, and in the City of London soldiers were ordered to patrol the streets, seizing any food they discovered being prepared for Christmas celebrations. - Did Oliver Cromwell Really Ban Christmas?

What part he played in the legislation of banning Christmas is not truly known but until his death in September 1658 he supported the enforcement of the existing measures and thus implemented the ban.

Could Christmas have been banned without his position as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653-58) is dubious at best.

Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire in 1599, and was Member of Parliament for the town for a year (1628-29).

The first ‘carols’ had been heard in Europe thousands of years before, the word probably deriving from the French carole, a dance accompanied by singing. These tended to be pagan songs for events such as the Winter Solstice, until the early Christians appropriated them: a Roman bishop in AD 129, for example, decreed that a carol called Angel’s Hymn be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. By the Middle Ages, groups of ‘wassailers’, who went from house to house singing during the Twelve Days of Christmas, had at their disposal many hundreds of English carols featuring nativity themes and festive tropes such as holly and ivy. Even King Henry VIII (1491-1547) wrote a carol called Green Groweth the Holly, whose beautiful manuscript can be seen in the British Library. The phrase ‘Christmas caroll’ is mentioned in an early Latin-English dictionary, and one of the great lyric 17th Century poets, Robert Herrick, wrote a carol text beginning: “What sweeter music can we bring?” The original music by Henry Lawes is sadly lost, but a contemporary setting of the poem by John Rutter is a modern seasonal favourite, proving just how evergreen the tradition of carol-writing is.

To Cromwell and his fellow Puritans, though, singing and related Christmas festivities were not only abhorrent but sinful. According to historical sources, they viewed the celebration of Christ’s birth on 25 December as a “popish” and wasteful tradition that derived – with no biblical justification – from the Roman Catholic Church (‘Christ’s Mass’), thus threatening their core Christian beliefs. Nowhere, they argued, had God called upon mankind to celebrate Christ’s nativity in such fashion. In 1644, an Act of Parliament effectively banned the festival and in June 1647, the Long Parliament passed an ordinance confirming the abolition of the feast of Christmas.

Bah humbug

But the voices and festive spirits of English men, women and children were not to be so easily silenced. For the nearly two decades that the ban on Christmas was in place, semi-clandestine religious services marking Christ’s nativity continued to be held on 25 December, and people continued to sing in secret. Christmas carols essentially went underground – although some of those rebellious types determined to keep carols alive did so more loudly than others. On 25 December 1656, a a member of parliament in the House of Commons made clear his anger at getting little sleep the previous night because of the noise of their neighbours’ “preparations for this foolish day…” Come the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, when legislation between 1642-60 was declared null and void, both the religious and the secular elements of the Twelve Days of Christmas were allowed to be celebrated freely. And not only had the popular Christmas carols of previous eras survived triumphant but interest in them was renewed with passion and exuberance: both the 18th Century and Victorian periods were golden eras in carol-writing, producing many of the treasures that we know and love today – including O Come All Ye Faithful and God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. - When Christmas Carols were Banned

I will let others decide this question, but it it does look like he had a hand in this whole affair in banning Christmas. He was also a Puritan was he not. Christmas was banned in 1656 and he was after all Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653-1658.

He disliked everything Catholic or popish!

Cromwell's hostility to the Irish was religious as well as political. He was passionately opposed to the Catholic Church, which he saw as denying the primacy of the Bible in favour of papal and clerical authority, and which he blamed for suspected tyranny and persecution of Protestants in continental Europe. Cromwell's association of Catholicism with persecution was deepened with the Irish Rebellion of 1641. This rebellion, although intended to be bloodless, was marked by massacres of English and Scottish Protestant settlers by Irish ("Gaels") and Old English in Ireland, and Highland Scot Catholics in Ireland. These settlers had settled on land seized from former, native Catholic owners to make way for the non-native Protestants. These factors contributed to the brutality of the Cromwell military campaign in Ireland. - Oliver Cromwell (Wikipedia)

Historical Fun Note

Is there any evidence to suggest Oliver Cromwell was a complete "Scrooge"?

As we know that Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge seems to have been a name taken from a tombstone in Scotland. Alas, Cromwell may have been a Scrooge, but he certainly not Ebenezer Scroggie

During a visit to Scotland that same year, Dickens visited Greyfriar Kirkyard, Edinburgh’s oldest cemetery. While walking among the headstones, Dickens came across a marker that read: “Ebenezer Scroggie, Meal Man”. It wasn’t uncommon for gravestones to cite the person’s job in life, and “meal man” was simply another term for corn merchant. However, Dickens misread the marker as “mean man” and asked a companion what one could have done in life to deserve such a comment even after death.

Cromwell may or may not have been a Scrooge, but he was mean!

  • Cromwell was a mean negotiator and was brilliant at using that as a primary means of avoiding conflict. But when push came to shove, he would stick to principles. Given that this question is about events that long pre-dated Dickens, your references to his misunderstandings are less a 'Historical Fun Note' than a bit below the belt, but perfectly understandable if Dickensian (Victorian) revelries are your forte. By the way, I'm a Scottish person who hates such English compromises with biblical principles! Please don't hold that against me! (kisses...)
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 18:54
  • Love that Historical Fun Note. However, in defense of my nation I have to protest that the general opinion that Scotish people are mean, tight-fisted and miserable applies only to a tiny minority. Well done to Charles Dickens.
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 18:55

According to the Oliver Cromwell Society, he personally didn't ban Christmas:

There is no sign that Cromwell personally played a particularly large or prominent role in formulating or advancing the various pieces of legislation and other documents which restricted the celebration of Christmas, though from what we know of his faith and beliefs it is likely that he was sympathetic towards and supported such measures, and as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658 he supported the enforcement of the existing measures. — Oliver Cromwell - Faq 4

He just happened to be there, and went along with the will of the people, though I doubt reluctantly.

But the Puritans (and other Protestant groups) were definitely more than just implicated:

Christmas has at times been the subject of controversy and attacks from various sources. Historically it was prohibited by Puritans when they briefly held power in England (1647–1660), and in Colonial America where the Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas in 1659. The Parliament of Scotland, which was dominated by Presbyterians, passed a series of acts outlawing the observance of Christmas between 1637 and 1690; Christmas Day did not become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958. — Christmas - Wikipedia

One of the reasons the Puritans fled England was to free themselves from the paganism within contemporary Christianity:

Christmas celebrations in New England were illegal during parts of the 17th century, and were culturally taboo or rare in former Puritan colonies from foundation until the mid-18th century. The Puritan community found no scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. — Christmas in Puritan New England - Wikipedia

It doesn't take much research to determine that almost everything we, in the 21st century, associate with Christmas has nothing to do with the Biblical record. It's all paganism and recent invention.

The Puritans had problems with that other pagan holiday too:

The early Puritans didn’t like Easter any more than they liked Christmas. They banned Christmas in 1659, fining anyone five shillings for celebrating the holiday. They ignored Easter, Whitsunday and other holidays. May Day celebrations, which included the hated Maypole, were punished severely. — Puritan Easter, or The Devil's Holiday - New England Historical Society


Some comments have disagreed with my "almost everything we, in the 21st century, associate with Christmas has nothing to do with the Biblical record. It's all paganism and recent invention" statement.

  • It is not all paganism as you so simply declare.
  • virtually none are pagan.

No, the vast majority of things associated with Christmas really are a result of Roman Catholic syncretism and of the modern advertising industry.

All I can suggest is to pick almost anything associated with Christmas and do a little research. There's a lot of information available in almost any encyclopedia, including religious encyclopedias.

E.g. this is from "The Catholic Encyclopedia":

Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see … . — CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Christmas

Here are just a few examples:

  • Many traditions predate Jesus's birth:

    • Celebrations are a continuation of the Roman Saturnalia, with partying and gift giving.
    • Evergreen wreaths were used to decorate houses during Saturnalia.
    • Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, was celebrated by Romans on December 25.
    • Mithras and the Sun God were born on December 25. Jesus was born a few months earlier.
    • It was not Jesus, but Mithras that was born in a cave.
    • Nativity scenes with madonna and child are directly taken from Egyptian images of Isis nursing Horus.
  • Nordic and German paganism:

    • Winter was celebrated with evergreen trees.
    • Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were used for decorations.
    • Yule logs were burned for 12 days.
  • Slavic:

    • The Koliada festival celebrated death and rebirth, with people wandering from house to house greeting the inhabitants with songs.
  • Catholic:

    • December 25th wasn't associated with Jesus until the 4th century.
    • Saint Nicholas, whose name was corrupted to Santa Claus, was a 4th century Roman Bishop famous for gift giving.
  • American:

    • Much of the modern western Christmas was introduced to North America by Pennsylvania German settlers, with enthusiastic celebrations, Christmas trees, Yule logs, and other Germanic traditions.
  • Secular:

    • Office parties, street decorations, parades, lavish gifts, etc. are all recent innovations.
    • Christmas cards date back less than two hundred years, following the development of regular postal delivery systems.
    • Rudolph the reindeer was created by a Jewish copywriter as advertising for Montgomery Ward.
    • The current image of Santa Claus was largely created for by Coca Cola advertising, and has nothing to do with Christianity.
  • ”It doesn't take much research to determine that almost everything we, in the 21st century, associate with Christmas has nothing to do with the Biblical record. It's all paganism and recent invention.” Christmas on December 25 has been recorded at least from 325 AD. That is not since 21st century. St Ambrose stated that he believed this liturgical celebration came from the Apostles themselves. It is not all paganism as you so simply declare.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 12:47
  • While there are some "recent" Christmas inventions less than 100 years old (Rudolph, TV specials, electric light displays) most Christmas celebrations are much older than that. And virtually none are pagan. The modern ones are just secular. Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 13:23
  • @DJClayworth says "virtually none are pagan". See my update. Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 19:45
  • @KenGraham says "It is not all paganism". Not all, but certainly most. See my update. Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 19:46
  • 1
    I've had this argument so many times it's boring. The basic refutations are 1) just because a symbol is repurposed doesn't make it invalid 2) you've cherry picked. A lot of Christmas elements you didn't include shepherds, wise men, Jesus in a manger, Christmas carols, stars, gifts, etc. But really all you've done is taken a decent answer and added a rant of your own - a rant that is now twice as long as the answer part. Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 2:37

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