The year that Christmas was cancelled in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Ross McGuinness
·3 min read
 A boy wearing a face mask and Christmas decorative eye glasses at a shopping mall, amid the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Annice Lyn / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Plans to allow limited Christmas celebrations in the UK have been curtailed, and scrapped entirely for millions. (Photo by Annice Lyn / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

This year will be a Christmas unlike any other.

Plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions for five days to allow limited celebrations have been curtailed – and cancelled entirely for those living under Tier 4 rules.

Concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus variant in the UK led to the dramatic scaling back of plans, with mixing banned in Tier 4 and the three-household provision being allowed for just Christmas Day itself in the rest of England.

Watch: Christmas cancelled for Londoners as new virus strain spreads

Boris Johnson initially announced that a scaled-back Christmas would go ahead at the end of November.

Opposition mounted in the coming weeks, with calls from scientists and doctors to cancel the Christmas bubble plan.

Less than a month later, the PM was forced into a major U-turn amid spiking rates in London and the South East.

For some, Christmas will be going ahead in some shape or form, something that wasn’t the case almost 400 years ago.

The idea of calling off Christmas entirely may sound impossible, but in 1647 that is exactly what happened.

Christmas was banned in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland after the Parliamentarians gained the upper hand over the Royalists in the English Civil War.

These newly governing Puritans, later led by Oliver Cromwell, who would rule the British Isles as Lord Protector, saw Christmas as a Pagan festival and believed it was an excuse for drunkenness, gambling and unruly behaviour.

As a result, they banned gatherings, exchanging presents and decorations such as holly and ivy.

Churches were locked to stop them offering festive services while shops and markets were forced to remain open during the 12 days of Christmas from 25 December to 5 January.

A statue of Oliver Cromwell in Parliament Square, London.
The Puritan government, later led by Oliver Cromwell, saw Christmas as a Pagan festival. (PA)

Martyn Bennett, professor of early modern history at Nottingham Trent University, argues that the political battle over Christmas resulted in a revolution.

The ban led to violent protests as pro-Christmas demonstrators took to the streets, causing looting and rioting in Canterbury, Kent.

Illegal Christmas parties in 1647 and the rioting that followed spilled over into the Second English Civil War in the summer of 1648 and the trial and subsequent execution of King Charles I the following year.

Combatants representing Royalists (L) and Roundheads, or  parliamentarians, re-enact the English Civil War's final Battle of  Worcester on the 350th anniversary of the event September 2, 2001. The  battle, on September 3, 1651, marked the defeat of Royalist forces  under Charles II by the pro-parliamentary New Model Army headed by  Oliver Cromwell. Charles II thereafter fled to France and Cromwell  gained control of England. REUTERS/Chris Helgren    CLH/AA
Christmas was cancelled in 1647 during the English Civil War. (Reuters)

Christmas continued to be banned throughout the English Interregnum, the period between Charles’s execution in 1649 and the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, when the Puritan Parliament was in power.

Following the Restoration, the Church of England was restored as the country’s national church and Christmas celebrations were allowed to return without suppression.

In a podcast discussing the Christmas ban, Professor Bernard Capp, a historian at the University of Warwick, said: “The Puritan ban had the perverse effect of making Christmas less religious as people still stopped work on the 25 December and secretly treated it as a time to eat, drink and enjoy themselves.”