"For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: 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."
From the records of the General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony May 11, 1659
I've been known to say "The Puritans were right," after being overwhelmed by the commercial demands of Christmas. Of course, the Massachusetts court wasn't complaining about commercialization. Any gift-giving would occur at New Year's. I learned the reasons for the Massachusetts ban here. What the Puritans didn't like was excessive drinking, merrymaking, and wassailing. The wassail--a sort of adult trick-or-treating, in which people would go from house to house and demand food and drink--could become violent if the wassailers did not get what they wanted. A familiar wassail song echoes this:
Come master, give us a bowl of the best,
And we hope that your soul in heaven may rest.
But if you do give us a bowl of the small,
Then down will come wass'lers, bowl and all.
The ban, which lasted only 22 years, really had nothing to do with Christmas as it is celebrated today. While I may still say "Bah, humbug" occasionally, my wife did things to make Christmas more meaningful--if just within our family.
She reminded us that the month leading up to Christmas is not the true Christmas season, but Advent--a time of hope and expectation. We light Advent candles at dinner, and sing a vese of "O Come Emanuel."
When the children were young, they would put their shoes outside the door on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, December 6, and we'd fill them with candy. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was known for gift-giving. A legend about him says that he anonymously gave three bags of gold to three girls in a poor family, so that they would have dowries for marraige and not be forced into prostitiution.
On December 13, St. Lucia's Day, we adopted the Swedish traditon of baking the braided St. Lucia bread. And for a while, our daughter Sarah presented it wearing a wreath of lighted candles. Anne made the bread last night--it's different from the one on the link, but it's very good.
And on Epiphany, January 6, Kathleen would make the Spanish Three Kings Bread. You had to be careful with it, as there was a bean (for good luck), a penny (for wealth), and a ring (for love and friendship) baked into it.
This was, I'll have to admit, a lot of work (mainly for Kathleen), but it did help put Christmas into context as a religious holiday in contrast to the commercial extravagnza that it has become.