“The War on Christmas” is an annual fluffpiece tradition over at Fox News, but the 2015 incarnation may have been the most ridiculous yet. Lots of right-wing Christians lost their minds when Starbucks revealed new Christmas cups that scrapped the penguins, Santas, and snowmen in favor of a minimalist design.
However, the real war on Christmas actually started in the 17th century, led by the newly installed Puritan government. Many Puritans fled to America soon after the 1660 reforms and the modern Christian right claim to be their descendants. Yet the Puritans hated Christmas, and particularly would have hated the cutesy Santas and snowmen on the side of their Starbucks cups.
In England, after Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government took over in the year 1647, Puritans attempted to outright ban Christmas. Puritans disliked the “popery” of the holiday, meaning that it was too Catholic. Puritans felt that God should be celebrated by long hours of praying, and not by eating and drinking heavily, giving gifts, and being merry.
For thirteen years, a Parliamentary order officially replaced Christmas with a day of fasting and prayer. The order was publicly reviled, and although it was repealed in 1660, the animosity towards Christmas found a new home: America.
Puritans thought that Christmas was a holiday of Catholic and Pagan invention (because, well, it is) and thought it was simply a day of sloth, gluttony, and drunkenness. In 1659, Massachusetts and Connecticut made the celebration of Christmas punishable by a 5 shilling fine.
Cotton Mather, an influential Puritan minister, wrote about his hatred of Christmas in 1712, saying that “the feast of Christ’s nativity… spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”
While the modern Religious right favorably compares themselves to the Puritan settlers when trying to “keep the Christ in Christmas,” they conveniently forget that their Puritan forefathers rallied against the holiday and tried to keep it focused solely on prayer. To Puritans, a simple red cup would have been preferable to a cup coated in secular symbols.