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Humbug indeed: Countries that banned Christmas, past or present

Magda Origjanska

Yes, you’ve read that right. Not every part of the world dreams about a white Christmas and thinks of this as the most wonderful of the year. Two years ago, the Sultan of Brunei and Somalia led an anti-Christmas “mission” and even banned Santa hats. In fact, some countries that wholeheartedly celebrate this holiday today have a history of animosity toward the festive season in the past. When the pilgrims first arrived in the New World, they imposed a ban on Christmas, and Cromwell’s puritans did so too in England, with a few socialist countries following suit centuries later. In recent years, there have been a number of countries that implemented Yule restrictions, including Cuba, Albania, and China. So as we recover from another Christmas followed by Boxing Day, here’s a brief insight into the countries that banned Christmas in the past.

England

Snowing on Jubilee Gardens in London

Snowing on Jubilee Gardens in London

After the overthrowing of the monarchy and execution of King Charles I during the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell discouraged the celebration of Christmas and saints’ days between 1645 and 1660. The reason for this was the stern belief of the ruling Puritans who considered such celebrations to “give liberty to carnal and sensual delights.” Parliament ordered the shops to stay open and even violently crushed secret celebrations, causing riots on the streets of London and other cities. Cromwell’s death in 1658 marked the beginning of the Restoration and thus the end of the aforementioned practices and policies.

Brunei

Brunei Flag

Brunei Flag

Three years ago, Brunei imposed a ban on public celebrations of Christmas, threatening with fines and prison for the disobedient practitioners of Christmas tradition. The ban specifically referred to Christmas costumes, including Santa hats, singing Christmas carols and songs, ornamentation with Christmas symbols and decorating trees. The strict decree was published in the Brunei Times and introduced by the billionaire Sultan of Brunei, who implemented it through Sharia law.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan Flag

Tajikistan Flag

Like Brunei, in 2015, Tajikistan was another country whose education ministry outlawed a number of Christmas customs and traditions, including the decorating of Christmas trees, festive feasts, fireworks, and exchange of presents. According to some media, these restrictions were an extension to the ban imposed on Father Christmas in 2014 and the tragic homicidal case of a man dressed as Santa who had been stabbed to death in 2011. These cases led to anti-Christmas regulations in this Muslim-majority country, which over time increased its restrictiveness.

North Korea

Christmas and New Year holidays in North Korea concept. 3D rendering isolated on white background

Christmas and New Year holidays in North Korea concept. 3D rendering isolated on white background

Considered one of the most hostile countries in the world toward Christians, North Korea doesn’t impose any official restrictions to Christian religion, but still stays far away from its commonly practiced traditions such as the celebration of Christmas Eve on the 24th December–a day that North Koreans celebrate as the birthday of Kim Jong-il’s mother, the Sacred Mother of the Revolution. Moreover, in 2013, this country almost declared war with South Korea due to the latter country’s giant Christmas tree, which was placed on the border between the two countries.

USA

Red, white and blue Christmas ornaments with American flag background.

Red, white and blue Christmas ornaments with American flag background.

In 1620, when the Puritans first arrived in the New World, they attempted to ban Christmas, branding it as the “Foolstide.” They fiercely believed and decreed that the only religious holiday worth celebrating was the Sabbath. This Puritanical ban was practiced quite strictly and anyone who disobeyed it was arrested. Even the Governor of Massachusetts experienced this anti-Christmas policy when he got put behind the bars for sponsoring a Christmas service. The ban lasted until the middle of the 18th century.

Saudi Arabia

A glossy red bauble with the golden shape of Saudi Arabia

A glossy red bauble with the golden shape of Saudi Arabia

Christmas in Saudi Arabia was silently celebrated by expatriates in their homes in the past. A few years ago, rumors of unlawful Noel parties provoked the state media to publicly announce the ban of Christmas celebrations in the kingdom. Muslims were also forbidden to greet non-Muslims during the holiday; however, some expatriates still continued observing the customs and let the public know about that by posting pictures of their Christmas trees and decorated homes.

 Albania

Albania Flag

Albania Flag

Known as the first and only constitutionally atheistic country, Albania rejected not only Christmas but also any religious beliefs. During the period of communism in Albania in the 1970s, many religious leaders and priests were condemned or jailed, but Christmas and Easter were still secretly celebrated by the pious. When the Communist regime fell at the beginning of the 1990s, Christians and Muslims became able to openly practice their religion.

Somalia

Red bauble with the golden shape of Somalia

Red bauble with the golden shape of Somalia

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs banned Christian festivals in Somalia. The announcement was made by the country’s director of religious affairs, Sheikh Ali Dhere. Two years later, the government in Mogadishu banned New Year’s Eve celebrations and mandated dispersion of any possible celebration by the police and the army.

Cuba

Red bauble with the golden shape of Cuba

Red bauble with the golden shape of Cuba

In 1959 Cuba was established as a country with an atheistic government and, a decade later, the Communist leader Fidel Castro put a veto on Christmas as a preventive measure that would refrain people from enjoying any festive celebrations and make them improve their work when harvesting. Interestingly, 20 years later Castro was persuaded by Pope John Paul II to lift the ban and even made the day a national holiday.

China

Chinese siblings opening gifts for Christmas.

Chinese siblings opening gifts for Christmas.

Today, Christmas is a fad in China. However, in its past the country witnessed a long period of having Christianity and Christmas banned, before it became a significant celebrated day in the winter season. Walking down the streets of Beijing or Shanghai during Christmas, one can lose his mind among the number of Santa Claus accessories and costumes.
Related story from us: Countries that ceased to exist in the 20th century
Chinese couples have a special affinity for Christmas as they do for Valentine’s Day, going out for dinner or exchanging romantic presents. Following the dominant Western custom of shopping spree, people in China also shop till they drop at the retailers but unlike Westerners who practice this on Black Friday, they prefer Christmas Eve.