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Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The Time New England Banned Christmas

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

For 22 years, Bostonians who wished a fellow colonist so much as a "Merry Christmas" would have to shell out five shillings for flaunting their Yuletide spirit. On May 11, 1659, Puritanical theocrats brought the hammer down on Christmas celebrations, enacting a political ban on the holiday and charging fines to Christmas sympathizers. The records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's general court shed some light on just how the Puritans managed to shutter holiday celebrations, stating:

...It is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.

The ban, enacted to put the kibosh on general holiday rowdiness—Reverend Increase Mather (above), a New Englander and father of Salem Witch Trials figurehead Cotton Mather, denounced the holiday season as "consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in Mad Mirth"—held steady through 1681.

Christmas customs prior to the ban were a little more unruly than hanging wreaths and caroling. One popular tradition, called wassailing, involved lower class colonists demanding food and drink from citizens of wealthier stature in exchange for toasting their good health. If denied, proceedings often got violent.

Though Christmas wasn't officially banned until 1659, journals from the Puritans' first Christmas in the colony illustrate that the number of settlers who celebrated Christmas was split. By the second Christmas—after a sickness-plagued year—the holiday was already unofficially prohibited.

Puritan rule, which banned seasonal delicacies like mince pies and pudding, decreed working on Christmas as mandatory and dispatched town criers on Christmas Eve to shout "No Christmas, No Christmas" through the streets of Boston. The outlawing of Christmas was also a regional, purely Puritanian restriction—farther south, Jamestown settler John Smith reported that Christmas was "enjoyed by all and passed without incident."

Christmas returned to the Massachussets Colony in 1681—sort of. When newly appointed royal governor Sir Edmund Andros (who also turned back a Puritan ban on Saturday night activitiessponsored and attended Christmas services in 1686, he was heavily guarded by a regiment of redcoats. 

Bostonian judge Samuel Sewall kept a chronicle of how Christmas was celebrated in his native colony, noting that celebrations remained sparse. Wrote Sewall in a 1685 diary entry: "Carts come to Town and Shops open as is usual." Working was no longer a necessity on Christmas day, but had become a staple after a 22 year lack of Yuletide traditions. 

Celebrating Christmas in Boston stayed out of vogue through the mid-1800s; public school students caught skipping class on Christmas Day in 1869, the year before Ulysses S. Grant named Christmas a national holiday, still risked expulsion. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put a poetic spin on Boston's Christmas cold spell in 1858, acknowledging the Puritanical footprint left on New England's holiday spirit.

We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.

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Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
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Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market more unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to the Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

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Amazon Is Offering Free Same-Day Shipping to Prime Customers for the Holidays
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The holidays are arriving early for Amazon Prime customers—along with every gift they’ve yet to order through the online shopping behemoth. Amazon has put all of its Prime members on the “Nice” list this year, and is rewarding them with free same-day shipping from now through Christmas Eve. While that may be cutting it a little too close for some shoppers, the limited-time perk has perpetual procrastinators singing “Joy to the World.”

“We are continually investing in Prime, adding more selection and making delivery faster and more convenient,” Greg Greeley, Amazon Prime’s VP, said in a statement. “In fact, in 2016, the last Prime Free Same-Day order from Amazon.com delivered in time for Christmas was ordered at 10:23 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The order included Venum Contender Boxing Gloves, and was delivered to a Prime member in Richmond, Virginia at 2:42 p.m.—the very same day, for free.

(Whoever received those boxing gloves last year: now you know.)

This year’s holiday shipping schedule will allow gift-givers to push that deadline even further. While two-day shipping is always free for Prime customers, if that were the only option, they’d have to be done buying all their gifts by Friday, December 22. This year’s shipping perk means that you can push your shopping all the way to Christmas Eve, as long as you live in one of Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery zones (you just have to order by 9:30 a.m.). Even better: If Prime Now is available in your area, you have until 9:14 p.m. on December 24 to place your order and still have something fabulous to stick under the Christmas tree.

Of course, zero-dollar shipping costs are far from the $99 service’s only perk: unlimited streaming of Prime Video movies and TV shows—including Amazon-produced series like The Man in High Castle, Mozart in the Jungle, One Mississippi, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—is there for the bingeing. Free Kindle books, photo storage, and grocery delivery are among Prime’s many other benefits.

Not a Prime member? No problem! “Even if you are not currently a member, holiday shoppers can try Prime for free for 30 days and get two-day, one-day, and same-day shipping for free,” says Greeley.

It’s hard to argue with free.

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