Christmas is Cancelled!

By Saida Hafsa Rafique

Hearing a phrase like that now would seem preposterous. But this wasn’t the case in 1640 Scotland, when an Act of Parliament of Scotland made the celebration of Christmas illegal. To understand why it happened, we need to move back in time to where it all started.

Let’s jump back to the Neolithic period. Around 2700 BC, the Neolithic people celebrated Winter Solstice. It was the longest and darkest night of the year and was significant to the people, the reason for which is not exactly known.

When the Vikings started to raid Scotland around the late 700s AD, they brought their own way of celebrating the Winter Solstice. This celebration was known as Yule and was thought to be a way of honouring ancestors in the darkest days of the year. It was celebrated for 12 days (talk about party animals).

With the arrival of Christianity in Scotland, the Yule gradually became a Christian Celebration. But then 1560 happened. Scotland split from the Catholic Church, the period known as the Scottish Reformation. Due to the split, religious thoughts began to change. Any celebrations of extravagance, or superstitious ideals were frowned upon, and guess what celebration comes under it? Yule. Or what I personally like to call, the downfall of party animals.

After the split, in 1583, Glasgow Cathedral ordered excommunication of those found to be celebrating Yule. That is mellow in comparison to other parts of Scotland, where even singing a Christmas carol would be considered a crime. This line of thought and the aversion to Christmas only grew. In 1640 celebration of Yule or Christmas was officially banned.

The ban lasted long, until it was completely revoked in 1712. Was Yule then celebrated openly? No. The Church still frowned upon it and the punishment for celebrating Yule was severe, on top of that, there was no public holiday for Scots on that day. But it was celebrated nonetheless, as there are multiple records proving so. Many Christmas activities continued on, such as selling yule loaves and ‘extraordinary drinking’ which was stated in St Nicolas Kirk Session’s minute book.

But when one door closes, look for another that’s open. The Scots refocused on other celebrations they could participate in freely, and hence the celebration around New Year’s Eve started – New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay, and the two days following that are still greatly celebrated today.

The subtle extraordinary drinking went on for centuries until 1971 when Christmas was finally recognized as a public holiday in Scotland. And another couple of years later, in 1974, Boxing Day became a public holiday, giving Scots the chance to relieve their hangovers in peace. Today, years later some traditions of the Yule and Vikings are still followed, such as Hogmanay tradition of first footing, lighting fires and decorating homes with holly and mistletoe.

The revellers prevailed. And with that, Merry Christmas!