Merry Christmas, America.
Yes, I know. Times are tough, and with the nation increasingly mired in debt to the Chinese and the rest of the world, our options appear at first glance to be kind of limited.
But fear not. We have always found strength and inspiration in our shared national history, and if we look far enough back into our past, I’m confident that we can once again discover solutions to the problems that plague us.
With that in mind, let us step into the WayBack Machine and set the time-travel dial for, say, 1659.
That year, the Portuguese defeated the Spanish at the historic Battle of Elvas, a victory they no doubt commemorated in black velvet Elvas paintings still found in Portuguese flea markets today. Over in England, “the Mother Country,” they were squabbling over something they called the Rump Parliament, which sounds suspiciously like the Georgia Legislature in recent years but probably wasn’t, since it was dominated by Puritans. (The Rump Parliament, that is, not the rump Legislature.)
Here in America, colonists were still trying to establish a foothold up and down the Atlantic Coast. In Virginia they were trying to boost the economy by stealing land from the locals, importing slaves and planting tobacco, which probably aren’t examples we ought to look to in this modern day and age.
Instead, maybe we should look a bit farther north to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded by Puritans who came to the New World seeking religious freedom. It is there that we may find the solution we seek.
That year, the good and decent folks of the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted a new law, which stated:
“”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.”
In other words, they made Christmas illegal, and every person who observed the holiday in any way was subject to a heavy fine for each offense.
If you didn’t go to work Christmas Day, you paid a heavy fine to the country. If you had people over for Christmas dinner, another heavy fine. Crack open a beer, get fined. Open a present, fined. Watch a bowl game, fined. I’m telling you, we could clear up the national debt in no time flat.
You see, a lot of the old-timey Americans weren’t quite sold on this Christmas thing. They saw it as a pagan holiday in Christian disguise, in part because there was no evidence whatsoever that Jesus had actually been born on the 25th of December. But the main reason they didn’t like it was because people were having way too much fun on Christmas.
The Rev. Increase Mather, for example, complained in 1687 that those vile “Christmas-keepers” honored the holiday in “highly dishonourable” ways, “consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth.” (”Compotations,” by the way, was the Puritan term for “tailgate parties.”)
And in 1621, Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation recounted what happened when he tried to rouse some non-Pilgrim newcomers to report for work on Christmas Day. They refused, saying “it wente against their consciences” to work on Christmas.
Bradford relented, and went off to his day’s labor. But when he returned to the village for lunch, “he found them in ye streete at play, openly; some pitching ye barr, & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and tooke away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play & others worke. If they made ye keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been atempted that way, at least openly.”
So, if we are to find the answer in our nation’s history, the solution to our problems is a heavy fine on Christmas feasting, drinking, gaming, revelling, “compotations” and gift-giving and an outright ban on all forms of sports.
Hmmm. Then again, maybe Henry Ford had it right: “History is bunk.”