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Airdate: Dec 20, 1999
Scientist: Vaughn Bryant

CHRISTMAS - When It was Illegal

CHRISTMAS - When It was Illegal
Believe it or not, there was a time when the singing of Christmas Carols could land you in jail.

Transcript:
WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS ILLEGAL

ambience: Alleluya Christo iubilemus-Alleluya

Celebrating Christmas this week? Or perhaps you're turned off by the excesses of the holiday season? Well, consider this: In England, only three hundred years ago, even the singing of Christmas carols could have brought you a six month prison sentence. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

Vaughn Bryant heads the Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University. He tells us that the holiday we now celebrate as Christmas actually dates back thousands of years to an ancient Roman solstice celebration.

"We find that the Romans were celebrating Soul Invictus, the celebration of the great sun god, and this was actually on December 25th. It was a time of great festivity, great merriment, and this was occurring long before Christianity ever began in the Roman Empire."

In the year 312, the Roman empire converted to Christianity, and over the centuries, Christmas gradually took on some of the customs which we recognize today: Church services, nativity plays, caroling and gift giving. But for a short time in the 17th century, during the Protestant Reformation in England, the celebration of Christmas became a criminal act.

"In 1645 they actually passed a law in parliament which actually forbid the celebration of Christmas. They called it idolatry, the period of abomination, the work of the devil. And anybody caught celebrating would be fined or in some cases put in jail. These became even stricter, a few years later, when parliament passed an even stricter law in some cases requiring imprisonment for up to 6 months if you celebrated Christmas."

The ban on celebrating Christmas in England was lifted only a few years after it was imposed.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science. Additional funding for this series has provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm Jim Metzner.