Once upon a time I built houses with a very politically opinionated construction crew. I was subjected to various harangues on issues of public policy and ideology, and became very well acquainted with my co-workers opinion concerning various political leaders. Being as this construction crew operated in the American midwest, most of the opinions I heard concerned U.S politics, which kind of makes sense. But my co-workers were far too opinionated to let geographical boundaries inhibit their punditry, and one day I was subjected to a dissertation on the ridiculous nature of the English monarchy.
“I just don’t understand the monarchy.” My co-worker began his soliloquy, going on to give a rather boilerplate diatribe against hereditary succession and entitled rich people.
“Did you know that they actually got rid of the monarchy once?” He asked.
“What, you mean with Oliver Cromwell?” I replied.
“I don’t know. I just heard that a long time ago they actually got rid of the monarchy, and then for some reason they brought it back. Why would they bring it back? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, well Cromwell cancelled Christmas.” I replied.
My co-worker suddenly realized the inherent value in monarchical institutions.
Anytime I hear someone mention cancelling Christmas, and it’s a subject which seems to come up fairly often in 2020, I think of Cromwell. I am no scholar on the fellow, but it is my understanding that when he was in charge soldiers would patrol the streets on Christmas day, seizing any food that was being prepared to celebrate Christmas. You weren’t allowed to close your business on Christmas, unless it happened to fall on a Sunday.* Anything and everything that had to do with Christmas was strictly verboten, as the English are apt to say.
A lot of people complain about “Scrooges” around Christmas time, an obvious reference to the protagonist from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In all fairness, I think this is being a little hard on old Scrooge. Sure, he was a mean grump for most of his life, but in the end he saw the light, and caught on to the Christmas spirit in a major way.
Cromwell never caught on, hating Christmas to the end of his days. When Cromwell died the monarchy was reinstated, and 17th century frat boy Charles II asceded to the throne. One of the first thing Charles did was un-cancel Christmas. Cromwell’s body was exhumed, and he was hung in chains on the Tyburn Tree. His body was then thrown into a pit, while his head was chopped off and placed on a pike outside parliament, where it stayed for about fifteen years. Cromwell’s head was passed around like a trading card until 1960, when it was finally buried for good beneath a chapel in Cambridge.
Until we’re dead there’s hope for the worst of us, so go ahead and be a Scrooge if that’s what makes you happy. While Scrooge repented of his wicked ways, Cromwell did not. Scrooge got to share a wonderful meal with his family, and feel good about himself. Cromwell got kidney stones, and his dead body was mutilated and ridiculed.
Something to think about if you’re being a humbug this season.
* Some people will tell you that Cromwell was not entirely responsible for cancelling Christmas. To these Scrooges I reply: Cromwell may not be the villain we deserve, but he is the villain we need.