The Current

Christmas banned? The unknown, forgotten and surprising history of this holiday tradition

Author Judith Flanders explores the history of the Christmas holiday — from its beginnings to present-day traditions.

Author Judith Flanders explores history of Christmas, from beginning to present-day

'The only war on Christmas that we know of has been waged by the Christian church,' says Judith Flanders, author of Christmas: A Biography. (pixabay.com)
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Originally published on Dec. 22, 2017.

While Fox News has been promoting the idea that there's a war on Christmas in America today, author Judith Flanders says there really was a war on Christmas — but not the one pushed by the network.

"The only war on Christmas that we know of has been waged by the Christian church," says Flanders, who wrote the new book, Christmas: A Biography. 

Christmas banned

"There had been a war on Christmas in the 17th century when ... the Puritan elements of the Christians church decided that, since there is no mention of Christmas in the Bible, there is no scriptural reference to Christmas; therefore it wasn't a real thing," said Flanders. 

"And celebrating Christmas was, according to Puritan belief, anti-Christian."

'Celebrating Christmas, according to Puritan belief, was anti-Christian,' says Flanders. (pixabay.com)

So for 20 years, Christmas in North America and Britain was banned. 

'It makes Christmas ever more secular'

The decision to ban Christmas did not have the intended effect the devout Puritans had hoped for, according to Flanders.

Those religious people who had observed Christmas by going to church said, 'OK, we will go to the pub instead.'- Judith Flanders

"It makes Christmas ever more secular," said Flanders, a native of Montreal, now living in London, who has gone back over the history of Christmas to its earliest days.

"Those religious people who had observed Christmas by going to church said, 'OK, we will go to the pub instead. We'll go to the tavern. We'll do excessive feasting and dancing.'"

For 20 years, Christmas in North America and Britain was banned, according to Flanders. (pixabay.com)

The Scottish church and Christmas

And while Christmas was unbanned in England and North America, that was not the case for centuries in Scotland.

Scotland is the only place on earth where, for a quarter of a millennium, Christmas was banned.- Judith Flanders

 "The Scottish Kirk, the church, did not approve of Christmas and so they managed to reban it in 1690," Flanders told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"And then somehow, oops, they forgot to unban it, and it stayed banned until 1958. So as far as I know, Scotland is the only place on earth where, for a quarter of a millennium, Christmas was banned."

'Scotland is the only place on earth where, for a quarter of a millennium, Christmas was banned,' says Flanders. (pixabay.com)

Flanders said that while Christmas has changed in many ways over the centuries, there is a constant longing for a better past and a perfect Christmas.

"It's the feeling of community that is given by this constant sense of renewal and looking backwards," she said. "It sounds contradictory, but I think that really it holds people together."


This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.