Bah humbug! Using ECCO and EEBO to uncover a time when Christmas wasn’t so merry...

Kirsty Whitehead, Academic Liaison Librarian for History, Archaeology and the Centre for Medieval Studies, explores seventeenth century attitudes to Christmas with two of our electronic resources.

Imagine how different this time of year would be without Christmas. In the seventeenth century Christmas was, as it is now, a big event: an important religious festival but also a chance to unwind by indulging in eating, drinking, dancing, singing, and all round general excess, of which unfortunately the Protestant Puritans disapproved. This contributed to a deep religious divide which subsequently led to civil war, and in 1649 the Puritans took control of government and, whilst in charge, abolished Christmas. Fortunately, when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 all legislation banning Christmas was dropped, allowing Christmas to be celebrated once again with renewed enthusiasm.

Anon., The Vindication of Christmas.
London: G. Horton, 1652.
Our electronic resources such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and Early English Books Online (EEBO) contain a wealth of primary sources, amongst which you can find contemporary perspectives on this period, such as the examples shown here.

In this 1652 pamphlet the Puritans' attempts to do away with Christmas are described in a tale about Father Christmas visiting Scrooge-like characters in London, and, of course, merry farmers in Devon. On the title page shown here, the man on the left - a fairly unthreatening-looking soldier - warns Father Christmas "Keep out, you come not here", with Father Christmas responding "O Sir, I bring good cheere". On the right, a friendly countryman says "Old Christmas welcome; Do not fear".


King, Josiah. The examination and tryal of old Father Christmas.
London: Charles Brome, 1686.
This pamphlet by Josiah King, published in 1686 after the legislation banning Christmas had been dropped, celebrates the reinstatement of the festivities through a humorous portrayal of the campaign against Christmas as a trial of Father Christmas.

He is ultimately acquitted of having "...abused the people of this Common-wealth, drawing and inciting them to drunkenness, gluttony, and unlawful gaming, wantonness, uncleanness, lasciviousness, cursing, swearing, abuse of the creatures, some to one vice, and some to another; all to idleness...". Phew!

Where can I find these resources and how can I get more help?

ECCO and EEBO are available to University of York users via the E-resources Guide, or you can explore other useful resources for your subject on your department’s Subject Guide. Both ECCO and EEBO can be used with EndNote Online to help you collect and manage your references - more information is available on our Reference Management site. For more advice about using electronic resources and for general advice about Library resources for your department contact your Academic Liaison Librarian (contact details are on the Subject Guides).

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