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When Christmas pud was illegal: killjoy laws of festive past

PUBLISHED: 09:29 24 December 2018

Laws from days gone by banned Christmas dinner, Christmas pudding, carol singing and walking to church. Pictures: Getty

Laws from days gone by banned Christmas dinner, Christmas pudding, carol singing and walking to church. Pictures: Getty

Archant

As you sit down to tuck into the turkey or open your presents this Christmas Day, you may not realise that technically you may be breaking the law. We unearth 10 killjoy laws of Christmas past.

Santa, Christmas presents and charades all fall foul of Christmas laws from the past, but archery is OK. Pictures: GettySanta, Christmas presents and charades all fall foul of Christmas laws from the past, but archery is OK. Pictures: Getty

The decorated tree, presents, turkey, pudding and carols — it’s easy to think Christmas has always been celebrated the same way. In fact, much of what we now think of as Christmas tradition has at one time or another been illegal.

From stopping more than three courses at Christmas dinner to banning driving to church, seasonal festivities have long been a favourite target of killjoy lawmakers.

Down the centuries almost every aspect of how we celebrate has been ruled over, regulated, restricted or outlawed. And in 1647, Christmas was banned altogether by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting, revelry and merriment on what was supposed to be a holy day immoral. That ultimate festive dampener — with anyone caught celebrating risking arrest and imprisonment — was lifted when the Puritans lost power in 1660.

Bizarrely though, many other Yuletide laws still remain on the statute book, obsolete but unrepealed.

Technically even today you should still get a licence from the chief constable to collect money for charity by going carol singing door to door. And to advertise for someone to play Father Christmas, under the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 you cannot specify that you want a man. So, if you want to stay on the right side of the law this Christmas Day, here is 10 more little known pieces of seasonal legislation:

1. No working

A law passed by Charles II in 1677 makes it illegal on Christmas Day for any “person whatsoever to do or exercise any worldly labour, business or work of their ordinary callings”. So those unlucky enough to have to work on December 25 will technically be breaking the law. Whether this excuse will cut much ice with your employer is perhaps another matter.

2. Walk to church

Edward VI’s law of 1551 states that it is illegal to ride or drive to church on Christmas Day. Technically this is still the law.

3. Parking problems

The above was modified by George III in 1780 allowing police to confiscate and sell any vehicle parked close to a church, the money being distributed to the poor and needy.

4. No fourth helpings

It was made illegal to eat more than three courses of Christmas dinner at a restaurant or hotel, according to a William IV law which was part of the People’s Charter of 1836.

5. Pudding problems

And if you are planning to tuck into Christmas pudding think again, it was made illegal, together with making mince pies, thanks to another law introduced in 1536 by Henry VIII.

6. Spoil sport

Working off some of those extra Christmas Day calories with a game or football or round of golf has also been hit for six. Taking part in any sporting activity other than archery is illegal according to the Unlawful Games Act also passed by Henry VIII in 1541. Archery was seen as essential to maintaining the country’s military strength. This was later joined by “leaping and vaulting” which kept young men fit and strong.

7. Charades potted

Even indoors be careful how you pass the time between Christmas dinner and the Queen’s Speech. It is not lawful to play billiards or charades, which is legally regarded as acting.

8. Gunning for trouble

The only legal use of a gun, including a sporting gun, is in defence of the realm, according to a law passed by William IV in 1831, which states “no person whatsoever shall kill or take any dog, gun, net or other instrument for the purpose of killing or taking any game on Christmas Day”.

9. Christmas corruption

Legally it is seen as corrupt to give gifts to or receive presents from business customers. This was made illegal under the Act for the Better Prevention of Corruption, passed to stop large firms offering Christmas bonuses to customers with whom they traded throughout the year.

10. Workhouse rules

The Poor Law Commissioners ordered that union workhouses set up by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, should serve no extra food on Christmas Day. The rules also stated that “no pauper shall be allowed to have or use any wine, beer, or spirituous or fermented liquors, unless by the direction in writing of the medical officer.” By 1840, the commissioners revised their strict rules to allow extra treats to be provided, so long as they came from private sources and not from union funds.

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