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When Americans Outlawed Christmas

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Today, Christmas seems as American as apple pie, but the country’s original settlers detested the holiday. Religious pilgrims who arrived in North America in the early 17th century demanded that citizens work on December 25 and shut down any merrymaking—and they eventually outlawed Christmas altogether.

Why were these New Englanders such grinches? For one thing, they disliked the celebration of Christmas—which they nicknamed “Foolstide”—because they disliked celebration in general. Puritans were a hard-working lot and pointed out that besides the Sabbath, the Bible said nothing about resting any other days, the birth date of Jesus of Nazareth included.

Beyond that, the Bible said nothing about which day Christ was born. (As historian Stephen Nissenbaum explains, “Puritans were fond of saying that if God had intended for the anniversary of the Nativity to be observed, He would surely have given some indication as to when that anniversary occurred.”) December 25 was just like any other day to Christians until the 4th century, when Pope Julius I recast the Roman Saturnalia festival into a Christian celebration. Soon holly, candles, and other midwinter pagan elements transitioned into Christmas trappings. New England leaders expected their citizens to follow the Bible, not the Pope.

For example, on Christmas Day, 1621, Plymouth Governor William Bradford came across a group of merrymakers playing “stoole-ball”—a sort of colonial version of baseball—and demanded the lot of them get back to work. Eventually, in 1659, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law prohibiting Christmas celebration altogether. It stated that in order to prevent “disorders … to the great dishonor of God and offense of others,” anyone found celebrating the holiday “either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way,” would be fined five shillings.

While this anti-Christmas ruling would be the law of the land for decades, following the restoration of Charles II as ruler of England, the pro-Christmas Crown’s influence soon waxed in the colonies. In 1681, laws forbidding the holiday were repealed (though staunch Puritans continued to fight against Christmas celebration for decades more). In 1686, the newly appointed royalist governor of the Dominion of New England, Edmund Andros, closed shops on Christmas Day and sponsored a holiday service—though local protests made it necessary that he be accompanied there by troops.

Protests of Christmas celebrations continued, but shifted more from protesting the celebration of the holiday at all to the manner in which it was celebrated. Christmas partying had long been characterized by overindulging in booze and food, taking to the streets playing clamorous music, rowdy singing, and demanding alms. This was a holdover from the post-harvest season when little work was left to be done and much was available to drink and eat. It was a ritualized disorder developed over centuries before being adopted and adapted by the church, and the whole thing revolted the rigid Puritans.

Boston minister Cotton Mather preached to his congregation in 1712 about how “[T]he Feast of Christ’s Nativity is 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.” Around the same time, however, Anglican celebrations in the colonies “began to attract more Christmas-keepers, despite the scorn and hostile preaching of the Puritan-minded,” writes historian Gerry Bowler in his new book, Christmas in the Crosshairs.

This debate over how to celebrate Christmas would continue into the next century and wouldn’t be resolved until a group of writers, poets, and intellectuals—men like New-York Historical Society cofounder John Pintard and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” poet Clement Clarke Moore—helped to move the holiday’s celebration from the streets into the home. But the merits of celebrating the day of Christ’s birth would not be widely called into question in the U.S. again.

In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare it a public holiday, and by 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant designated it a federal holiday, partly as an effort to heal the rift between North and South following the Civil War. By then there was no turning back. In the battle between puritanism and Christmas celebration, the latter won a decisive victory.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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