Why There was No Tinsel nor Tea on This Day

What are the dangers of tinsel? I have known of dogs and sometimes cats eating it. Not that I have carried out a scientific study of course, but the results of tinsel eating would be festive, shiny droppings. Brightens up a dog walk, I say. Perhaps the bright metallic colours in some varieties have blinded people. Maybe some folk have become tangled up in the stuff or the strands have been too sharp and cut fingers. But these were not the reasons why it was banned in the seventeenth century.

Tinsel was banned because it was a symbol of fun at Christmas. And believe it or not, Christmas was not about fun then. The reigning King Charles loved the Christmas glitz and fully engaged in the celebrations of Christ’s mass to celebrate His birth. But he had his head cut off after being found guilty of treason. So on this day in 1653 Oliver Cromwell became the leader of England as head of the Parliamentarians, the only time England was republic.

Cromwell was a Puritan, which means that he believed people should live pure and good lives. The main principle was that Puritans should work hard and avoid frivolity in order to get to heaven. Christmas was renamed ‘Christ-tide’ to disassociate the sinful Catholic celebration of Christmas. Frivolity included mince pies, theatre, wearing make-up and even going to church on Christmas morning. Just in case anyone enjoyed it.

When Cromwell died he was buried at Westminster Abbey like many other kings. Then the people of England, Wales and Scotland had a think. Cromwell’s son took over as leader, just as monarchs do. They realised that the king had been replaced by someone who ruled them with a much sterner rod. They invited King Charles’ son to come back and return their country into a sovereign one again.

Running a country is a busy job and nobody thought to repeal all of the silly laws that banned Christmas decorations. Fortunately I don’t think police are aware of all us law-breakers. Or maybe they have a backlog of cases.

The 16th December is also the anniversary of the Boston Tea party, when the Americans decided to throw the imported tea into the sea. This was a protest against the tax policy of Britain and the East India Company who controlled all of the tea imports in the colonies of the British Empire. This defiant act in 1773  was one of the key events leading up to the American Revolution and probably explains why, on the whole, Americans are a nation of coffee drinkers as opposed to the British tradition of drinking tea.

To me, this date is a scary one. I love tinsel and could not survive without tea. My ancestors did not move to America, but they could have. So, as the saying goes, there but for the grace of God. I will drink my tea in a cup tied with tinsel today. Hey, I think I will do that until new year.

(c) 2012 A.J. Sefton


Migration and Visits: When Visiting is Forever

Two weeks left before Christmas and the visiting schedule is well under way. I dread it usually. How to fit in visiting people we haven’t seen since last Christmas (read as ‘relatives’) with people we want to see (read as ‘party with’) as well as having some quality time at home can be quite fraught. Factor in the travelling time and where to spend the night…no, I do not want to think about it right now.

These are just temporary visits even though they all come at once at this time of year, the season of goodwill. But for some people visits turn into migration. On 11 December, in 1620, about 103 people disembarked at a place called Plymouth to begin a new life. These folk were known as Pilgrims who left the shores of England to find a place where they could live in peace. They wanted to be free to follow their own faith, their own way and not live in an intolerant and turbulent country as England was at that time. They moved first to Holland and then to the New World, which later became the United States of America. The Pilgrim Fathers became the symbols of the new free world that the USA was to become whilst holding on to their English identity.

Not all migrants had freedom to worship as their main focus. For some it was much more simple. We are not really sure why the Anglo-Saxons from Germany came to England but some were definitely invited. After the Romans left in the fifth century, the indigenous peoples of England were feeling pretty vulnerable without the gladiatorial protection being in the Roman Empire provided. Invasions from the north and west were frequent. There are records of attacks from the Scots and the Irish and these Celtic folk were quite scary. Well, they could survive very cold weather after all.

Two of the most famous Saxons were Horst and Hengest, according to Bede, Ninnius and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. They were invited as mercenaries serving Vortigen, King of the Britons. He needed armies to fight for him against the Picts, who resided in modern day Scotland. Various sources have said that Horst and Hengest were paid with supplies of food and clothing as their homeland was crowded and over populated. This would also explain why so many families moved to England to settle here. England has a lot of rain but the land is very fertile and flooding is not as a great a problem as it was in the regions of Saxony, Angeln, Jutland and Friesland. England is really good for growing things even before we discovered potatoes. And these people stayed here, so it must have been good.

I try to think how difficult it must have been for these families moving to unknown lands, without photographs or holidays to prepare them. How unusual was the landscape and atmosphere? How scary were the native peoples?

Well certainly not as scary or unusual as my visits to the relatives, that’s for sure.

(c) 2014 A.J. Sefton