Why We Need Christmas

It’s been a wretched year. In the United Kingdom, even modest plans for Christmas gatherings have had to be cancelled as the virus rages in a new, more virulent form. Here on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border, the rain is hard and steady. It is merely the latest in a long line of wet, gloomy days. The sort of day when the sun never really rises and never really sets. The day just passes from greyer to less grey and back again. This of course, is not untypical of this time of year.

And yet, today has been rather a jolly one at Wharf House. We have spent it making mince pies and sausage rolls. We iced the Christmas cake. All of this to the accompaniment of Christmas carols. It is this great festival of Christmas that lifts the gloom and gets us though.

The Romans celebrated their festival of Saturnalia around the time of the Winter solstice. The pagan Anglo-Saxons are known to have celebrated ‘Yule’ at mid-Winter and the ancient Britons before them similarly marked this turning point of the year, from the dark, back towards the light. And well they might because if ever there is a time of year when one needs cheering up, it is now. To say the least then, Christmas is a well-timed festival.

There was a time, not so very long ago in our history when Christmas was actively suppressed. The puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries slowly worked themselves up into quite a frenzy about what they called ‘Old Christmas’. Disapproving as they did of pleasure, never mind excess, they looked with horror at the last vestiges of pre-reformation Christmas traditions, which still persisted. With the defeat of King Charles I in the Civil Wars of the 1640s, the puritans were able to impose their peculiar liturgical interpretations on their fellow countrymen. It became illegal to decorate one’s home with greenery. It was illegal to attend Church on Christmas Day. It was certainly illegal to feast, drink or generally to show any sign of festive merriness. Christmas Day was not only deemed to be a day like any other but was even made a day of compulsory fasting. It is fair to say that these ordinances were not popular. In 1647, the people of Canterbury rioted and demanded that they be able to celebrate ‘their Christmas’. Up and down the country, quietly and behind closed doors, people risked fines or worse by continuing to make merry. Fortunately for them (and for us) King Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660. As one contemporary noted,

“Now thanks to God for Charles’ return, whose absence made old Christmas mourn, for then we scarcely did it know, whether it were Christmas or no.”

So, although it may not be the Christmas we either wanted or expected this year, it is still Christmas and we wish you all a merry one!

One Response to “Why We Need Christmas”

  1. Throckmorton Says:

    Hello from your old friend. Your wonderful piece about Christmas reminded very much of the Christmas before mummy stopped wearing clothes and took to sporting only scarves and ivy. My siblings and I were sent out “mole crabbing” with cook and Finch the stable man, we took a large Runcible’s Groat (a fine loaf made of wheat, chaff and orange pips bound together with starling fat) as well as cider, plums and a sack of ale known as Christ’s Bundle (fermented milk ale stored in and served from its original udder).

    Catching moles with line and rod was the traditional method in those parts when we were younger and I still have the shoes that nanny made me with mole teeth fastenings. Christmas was a magical time and the one day of the year that our youngest sister was brought down to eat with us, she lived mainly on raw meat but was allowed three roast potatoes and to hell with the upset tummy – after all, what are labradors for if not to mop up after a dicky tum tum!

    I must away but thank you once again for the walk down memoir Lane.

    Miss Throckmorton

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