Oliver Cromwell was a leader of the Parliamentarian faction during the English Civil War against King Charles I. He was one of the most influential figures in British history, but why did Cromwell ban mince pies?
Oliver Cromwell did not specifically ban mince pies. In 1642, Parliament had devised a monthly day of fasting on the final Wednesday of each month. It once fell on Christmas Day and Parliament upheld the day of fasting, meaning that mince pies were technically outlawed on Christmas Day, 1644.
For more on the ban on Christmas and why mince pies were briefly outlawed, read on.
Criticism of Christmas
Oliver Cromwell’s name is often mentioned in reference to opposition to Christmas. However, Cromwell was just part of a larger movement in Britain that had spread across England: Puritanism.
Protestantism had become well established in Britain following Henry VIII’s decision to separate the Church of England from the Catholic Church. Puritanism was Protestantism taken to the extreme. Any religious celebration or tradition that was not seen to have a basis in the scripture of the Bible was considered an extravagance.
One of the key traditions that Puritans turned their attention to was the festivity that surrounded Christmas. However, commitment to the Bible was not the only reason that Christmas was targeted. Many also believed that the occasion had gradually transformed into nothing but an excuse for excessive drinking and the reckless debauchery that came with it.
In 1640, Presbyterians in Scotland had voted in favor of a ban on Christmas celebrations. As such, the decision in England was not unprecedented in Great Britain.
In 1642, the English Parliament passed legislation that introduced a mandatory day of fasting each month. By abstaining from food and dedicating the day to prayer, it was hoped that the people of England would be looked upon favorably by God.
King Charles I agreed to sign the bill. The last Wednesday of every month would be set aside as this day of religious observance.
Shortly after this bill, Civil War erupted in England, with Parliamentarians fighting Royalists. Oliver Cromwell was one of the leading figures in Parliament, as well as the Parliamentarian military faction.
By coincidence, in 1644, Christmas Day fell on the final Wednesday of December. This was the day usually set aside for fasting and prayer, creating a dilemma for the Puritans.
As the country was in the midst of a war, Parliamentarians feared that foregoing the monthly fast and prayer would be viewed as disrespectful to God. They feared that it might even tip the balance of the war in favor of the Royalists.
To avoid such an outcome, Parliament motioned to cancel church services entirely, with Christmas Day being treated the same as any other fasting day throughout the year. There was no special legislation written to ban mince pies, nor was Parliament opposed to eating mince pies in general.
Mince pies were simply a victim of unfortunate timing, banned along with every other traditional Christmas food on Christmas, 1644. In reality, there were likely many mince pies eaten across Britain, as the ban was only enacted a couple of days before Christmas.
Even if word spread across the country, a large amount of England was not under Parliamentarian control.
In 1645, Parliament wrote the “Directory for Public Worship” for the Anglican church. This new guidance specified that traditional celebrations such as Easter and Christmas were no longer considered national holidays.
The Christmas ban became official in June 1647, extending beyond church services to outlaw private celebrations at home. The news was received angrily, causing scattered riots across England.
Over the next half-decade, Parliament introduced further legislation with harsh fines for attending or holding services. Store owners were ordered to open normally on Christmas Day, which was largely ignored.
Recognizing that people were simply ignoring the law and that many local authorities were unwilling to administer justice for such a crime, Parliament did not pass any further legislation on the subject. In truth, it was unlikely to ever be enforceable and Parliament was likely just expressing its public opposition to the holiday.
When the English monarchy was restored in 1660, most of the legislation introduced during the Civil War was rescinded. Oliver Cromwell was a senior Parliamentarian but was not actually present when the ban on Christmas was signed. Even so, he has long been viewed as an enemy of Christmas and of the humble mince pie.