A THUMB-NAIL HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS IN ENGLAND
FIRST MENTION OF FEAST OF NATIVITY ON 25th DECEMBER: Possibly the earliest mention of a special feast for the Nativity on the 25th December is in the Philocalian Calendar in the year 354. This does refer back to earlier information from 336. However, in 388, St Chrysostom wrote that the observing of the festival of the Nativity (on December 25th) was not yet ten years old.
*WHEN CHRISTMAS CAME TO BRITAIN: The first records show that St Augustine came to Britain with his missionary monks from Rome, and on Christmas Day 598 it is said that he baptised more than 10,000 English people in the Christian faith.
*According to the Venerable Bede in his History of the English Church, the legendary King Arthur was crowned by St Dubricius on Christmas Day, somewhere very close to this date.
*In the year 816, the Council of Chelsea enforced the observance of Christmas on December 25th in Britain. This date was formerly called 'Mothers Night, a vigil in honour of the re-birth of the new sun, so it had been deemed easy to replace it with the birth of the Son of God. /
*PEACE AND GOODWILL: During the reign of the Saxon King Ethelred 991-1016- a law was made that the season of the Nativity should be a time of peace and goodwill, when all strife must end.
*WHEN THE NATIVITY BECAME 'CHRISTMAS' Until c1170, the festival was always referred to as 'In Festis Nativitatis' Or 'Natalis' The Feast of the Nativity. The anglicised 'Christes-Masse' did not appear until after the Norman invasion.
* WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS BANNED: Christmas became the chosen time for coronations, decrees and all manner of important events. The Reformation brought about by King Henry VIII (mid-16th century) brought this all to a stop. In 1644 the puritan parliament first sat on Christmas Day setting a trend of 'no Christmas', in 1645 they had declared Christmas a working day. Christmas actually was banned! Anyone found making Christmas pies was in severe trouble, and often arrested as an example to others.
At this time also all the customs began to die out, because anyone found celebrating was similarly chastised. Priests were in hiding, and few people managed to attend the old 'Christe-Masse.'. No 'Waits' sang in the streets; people were compelled to work on Christmas Day, and there was no feasting or decorating of houses or streets.
*CHRISTMAS REVIVED: After the restoration of the King (Charles II) in 1660, things got better, but after over 100 years of reformation and puritan restraint, many of the old customs were not restored in their former style. Mostly, it was country people who held onto them, and although there was an element of the 'Christmas of Olde England' in Georgian England,( as you can read from the extract of CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIAN ENGLAND), for many townspeople the customs were just not there. It was not until the Victorian scholars began to research into old documents, and talk to ancient characters in villages and hidden areas of the North of England etc where things changed more slowly, that the old customs were to be practiced again. Sadly many of the symbolism and reasons behind the christianised versions of these customs was lost, a fact particularly obvious in the custom of KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE - THE KISSING BOUGH.