Hi, everyone, I'm Alastair Madden, and this is superstitions as of Spotify, original from past, belief in the supernatural does not belong to religion alone. Our world is a strange place full of unsettling patterns and idiosyncrasies we struggle to understand. It is here at the intersection of chaos and fate that we find superstitions. On this show.
We tell stories illustrating the horror, the weirdness and the truth behind these beliefs. We explore how they began and what their continued existence says about the fragile human mind. Today, Christmas is a sacred holiday for Christians around the world. But that hasn't always been the case. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony thoughts celebrating Christmas was blasphemy. The very timing of the holiday. The winter solstice had its roots in Roman Saturnalia when the ancient pagans would make offerings to the God of sowing for a bountiful harvest.
The Bible, of course, does not indicate what time of year Jesus was born, and one of our most cherished Christmas traditions might have roots in pagan practices.
Superstition held that Christmas trees were leftovers from Old Norse mythology, where worshippers of Thor would sacrifice a baby beneath the branches of an evergreen, supposedly Catholic missionary, St. Boniface Chumped, one of these trees down to prove the superiority of his faith.
When he wasn't struck by Thor's lightning on the spot, he proclaimed it as evidence that he worshipped the one true God. The Puritans thought Christmas was just another Catholic heresy, a way to appease Pagan converts, their whole reason for coming to the new world was to practice their faith, how they saw fit. And so Christmas was banned in short order, as was Easter gambling. Really fun of any kind. Life was about to Tony, not celebrating. And besides, there was always something more important to be doing.
Six Hundred's Boston was cold and unforgiving. If hunting slowed down or crops failed, then there would be nothing to eat. If the women didn't sew clothing to wear, then everyone would freeze.
Despite all this, I have heard a legend, one that tells of a young man who moved to the small town right before Christmas, changing its residence forever.
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Coming up, we travel back to 16 59 and now our story begins.
Christopher Cotton sat in church one cold December morning in the new Boston colony, his Anglican parents back in England had never cared if he went to church. But after they died, he'd been sent to live with his Puritan aunt and uncle in America. Now he had to attend every Sunday. The reverend increased. Heartwell was a passionate speaker. He was currently at the podium in the small church, banging his fists and shouting out his sermon. The Lord hath sent a challenge before us.
He is testing us with this unholy Christmas holiday. Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than in all the 12 months. Besides, with its gospel of Roman candles and Nordic trees, prithee that he would turn the whole thing to ash. They, for whom all days are holy, can have no holiday.
But to resist Christmas makes us Mitya. Soon our Lord shall return and He will come to me and say, Reverend Heartwell, did they turn the flock from the wickedness of sin, from the debauchery of Christmas? And what am I to say that I was otherwise occupied? Nay, I shall deliver each and every one of you from Christmas and into Christ's arms.
Christopher sunk into the pew and rolled his eyes, he loved Christmases back home in England, the carols, the holly, the trees and twinkling candles and of course, the dancing.
The Puritans only let girls dance with girls and boys with boys. His eyes drifted across the room to where the reverend's daughter remember Heartwell sat with the other ladies of the colony. Her clothing was simple, as was all Puritan clothing by law. But she used colorful pink and blue fabrics that made her seem lovely in Christopher's eyes. For the briefest of moments, her gaze met his and she smiled.
After service, several church members gathered on the porch of the home of Sir Edmund Andrews, the royal governor. It was then that Christopher turned to find none other than remember Heartwell strolling across the town square toward him.
He did his best to seem cool, casually leaning against a nearby horse stall.
When the Fair Lady came into range, he gave her a nod. Remember right? He asked.
She stopped turning to look at him. Indeed, it would seem you Englishmen are educated enough to at least recall the name. How impressive, Christopher smiled. Hard to forget a name like that. You Puritan's name your kids some pretty queer stuff. She rolled her eyes and went to sit on the porch, Christopher followed, arriving in time to catch the tail end of a conversation between Sir Edmund and Reverend Hartwell. Reverend Sir Edmund was saying, I hear the schoolteachers down in Virginia teaching Shakespeare Shakespeare.
Christopher was a great fan of the Bard's work and saw an opportunity to prove his sophistication. Oh, yeah, those are some great plays, he said, interrupting. The governor, reverend and governor's wife stared at him with disdain, his smile faded. You know, Midsummer Night's Dream, he said, trying to save face. It's a classic. The governor's wife frowned, maybe in another colony. It's a classic. The adults began to turn away, but Christopher couldn't let the issue drop in any colony.
He insisted he failed to notice that across the porch, remember, was smiling. The governor wasn't as offended as his wife. He merely said the Bible is the only classic we need here. Son Christopher had had enough of these Puritans wouldn't know literature if it kicked them in the breaches, he thought, storming down the steps. He was halfway across the yard when, remember, caught up with him.
Christopher looked surprised as she beckoned him out of view of the elders on the porch.
She looked around conspiratorially and dropping her manners, said, How about we get out of here?
He quickly consented and followed her in the direction of the woods.
She took him farther from the colony than he'd ever been before, past the creek into the dense woods and then to the campsite of the Massachusett natives. At first he was concerned he had heard mixed things about these people, but a friendly young Massachusett man about his age came up to him offering a hand. Hey there. Remember, I see you brought a friend. My name's Jamaican. Christopher relaxed and shook the man's hand. He looked over Jamaican shoulder to a spectacular sight.
The tribe was banging drums, shaking, rattles and dancing. What are they doing? Asked Christopher Cut. Jamaican looked back at his people. It's a ritual dance part of our year end celebrations. It's how we pass down the knowledge of our ancestors. Went to join. Christopher was nervous, but one look at remembers excited face was all he needed. Christmas is all about enjoying yourself, he said.
Remember grinned and together they rushed in to join the dancing.
Later that night, remember Christopher Cut Jamaican and a group of local teenagers congregated in the woods. Remember had told her parents that she was attending Bible study, but one thing led to another and a small Christmas party had cropped up. They hung Holly from the trees and lit candles. At one point, Christopher's hand brushed against remembers. He was about to apologize, but instead she reached out and held hands more deliberately. He blushed and they continued their work.
They had just begun to sing The Boar's Head, Carol, when the sound of footsteps came from the woods all turned to see none other than Reverend Heartwell standing in the candlelight. Remember, he said he walked up to her face, pale with shock. You forgot your cloak.
He meekly handed it to her, then looked around at the gathering. He took in the candles and Holly finally his eyes fell on Christopher, standing much too close to remember.
The reverend shook his head in disbelief. Then he turned to the gathered teens. I see that my sermons have not been warning enough against the sin of Christmas.
You stand here as blasphemous, participating in this pagan debauchery with savages, no less. Very well.
I shall speak to the governor. And Christmas is to be banned. Next, Christopher, and remember, try to save Christmas, hey, podcasters Alisdair here, if you haven't had a chance to check out the entertaining new podcast, Blind Dating, now's the time to binge what you've missed before. Catching all new episodes every Wednesday in this Spotify original from podcast, we're expanding the places you can meet your match with a twist you'll never see coming. Join host Terry Michel as she introduces one hopeful single to two strangers in a voice only call.
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Now back to the story. Christopher Cotton was new to the Boston colony, but he struck up a fast friendship with the reverend's daughter. Remember Heartwell as well as a local Massachusett boy, cut Jamaican after a night of dancing. The teenagers were caught red handed by remembers father Reverend Hartwell. The next morning, the governor nailed an official missive to the side of the church.
It read, for preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals, as well as superstitiously kept in other countries to the great dishonor of God and offensive others.
It is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting or any other way.
Every person so offending shall pay of every such offence five shillings as a fine to the county. Christopher saw this posting and seethed with rage. It wasn't enough to preach against Christmas. Now it was illegal. These Puritans truly had lost their minds. He turned to cut Jamaican who had come into town to trade. These Puritans work so hard to survive, they've forgotten all the things that make life worth living, cut, make shook his head in solemn agreement.
They are absolutely, without a doubt, way uptight, he said.
Meanwhile, remember, we're still trying to explain her actions to her father, her temper got the best of her, she shouted, I almost never celebrate nor gambol nor dance, nor read Shakespeare. I am allowed no fun of any kind.
She tried to storm away in a huff, but her father blocked her path.
And who is it that caused you to partake in that heathen ritual? He demanded. Remember paused. She was used to lying to her father, but this time she wanted him to know the truth. Christopher Cotton, she admitted. The reverend's eyes blazed, I forbid you from seeing him further, he said almost casually, Christopher is too bold a name for any man.
It belongs properly to Christ and therefore, to bestow it on a mortal creature is blasphemy.
Remember, lost all composure just because his parents were Anglicans doesn't make him a heathen father. And with that, she stormed away, Reverend Hartwell watched her go, his jaw and fists were clenched, his posture rigid, but his heart was beginning to waver.
In truth, the constant tug of war with the youth of the town had left the good Reva's somewhat doubtful of his mission. The whole point of the colonies was to live in freedom. So why was he spending most of his time limiting the freedoms of his daughter and her friends? Was Christmas really so evil? That afternoon, he found himself at the offices of the governor, Sir Edmund was his usual high strung self.
He was waving around a wax Christmas tree ornament in his hand.
John Whitman found this in his daughter's belongings last night. Would you believe it? Truly? I say we are losing the youth to sin. The punishment for celebrating Christmas must be more severe. We must make an example of sinners.
Reverend Hartwell tried to calm him down.
Perhaps, my Lord, we ought not to blow things out of proportion. But the governor viciously shook his head. Corruption takes root quickly, Reverend, and how quickly would that be snapped? The reverend surprised that his own anger longer than it would take for our compassion for our own children to wither on the vine. The governor glowered at him. There was an awkward silence. Then Sir Edmund said, Christmas is not a day for celebration. It is a day for fasting and humiliation for the Lord, as is every day.
The children must all learn this or else. Meanwhile, remember had flaunted her father's orders and had reunited with Christopher. They sat by the creek hand in hand, holding each other for warmth. I just don't get it, he said. How can anyone hate Christmas so much? Remember side, if anyone has reason to, it's my father. She explained the whole history of the colony to him. How, for a long time the adults had decided Christmas was a pagan holiday.
But she always felt that just because some of the traditions had pagan origins, that didn't mean they had to be superstitious about them. Her father hadn't always been so strict. He'd spent many hard winters in Boston colony. He'd also lost many children, six to be exact, each one dying in childbirth of disease or of the cold. None saw their first birthday. Except for remember, she had survived, but it had been the final birth for her dear mother, God had given Reverend Hartwell a daughter but taken his wife on Christmas Day, no less.
Remember finished her story saying ever since then, he's blamed the Christmas season and its traditions for his misfortune. He believes that the deaths in his family were punishment for allowing pagan practices in this new Holy Land. Christopher. So now that there was likely no way to convince the reverend that Christmas wasn't evil. So instead he told her a member of his own Christmases in England, the dances at the old castles, the halls decked with holly candles and fir trees and the food, there had been roast boar and goose cheeses, beer, all you could eat, remember, giggled at the sight of how hungry Christopher was making himself.
Is that what you miss about Christmas? The most? The food. Christopher thought about it and then became very serious. Actually, no, I would give all of that up if it meant I could just be with my parents again. Father was always away and mother always at court, but on Christmas, we were all together. Remember was suddenly very moved. She reached down into her apron and produced her Bible, rapidly flipping through the pages. My father's wrong, you know, Christmas is about love, cherishing our families, I'm reminded of this psalm.
A look of excitement past across Christopher's face so suddenly that, remember, stopped short. What is it she asked you? Just give me an idea, said Christopher. Remember, you must teach me this verse and others like it, I believe. Nay, I know that I can save Christmas. She wasn't sure what he meant, but somehow she trusted him. She gripped his hand, wishing she could do more, but for now they would hold each other and she would teach him the Bible.
The following Sunday, Christmas Day, as it were, the congregation gathered in the church again, but just before Reverend Hartwell could begin his sermon, Christopher Rose from his pew. Heartwell looked startled. You have something to say, young man, pulling a bookmark copy of the Bible from his pocket, he began. You know, far more of the Lord's word than I, however, as Jesus teaches, even the weakest among us is worthy in the eyes of the Lord.
And I believe that the Lord is telling me that we should celebrate Christmas. Christopher, open the Bible and begin to read Proverbs Chapter 17, verse 22, a merry heart do with good as medicine. He flip to another page. Romans Chapter two Verse ten love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other. And to a third passage. Ecclesiastes Chapter three, verse 13. And every man should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
This is the gift of God. The reverend's eyes widened and for a moment it looked like he might leap down from the pulpit and attack Christopher, but then his face fell and all the congregation saw his sorrow. Not for Christopher, but for himself, for he knew the truth, that in his grief, he had condemned an entire town to a miserable Christmas less existence.
Before the reverend could speak, the doors to the church swung open. Sir Edmund had heard the first part of Christopher's speech and had snuck away. Now he had returned with a pair of red coats. Sees him, cried Sir Edmund, the soldiers grabbed Christopher by the arms and dragged him into the town square, remember screamed while her father tried to contain her, but she broke free and all soon followed her out into the courtyard. There were more soldiers now.
They tied a noose in a long rope and threw it over a nearby tree branch. Sir Edmund stood beneath the tree, eyes alight with righteous fury. It is clear now that the posted find is insufficient to keep our wayward youths from the devil's grasp. But we shall not submit to ungodly ritual.
Let it be known henceforth that the punishment for celebrating Christmas shall be death. The soldiers took a terrified Christopher and forced the noose around his neck. Remember, ran to her father. Is this what you wanted? She cried for me to be as alone as you are. God took everything from you. Don't do the same to me. His face was unreadable across the square. Three of the guards pulled Christopher to his feet. They held him in place as two more grasped the rope they had just begun to pull.
When Reverend Hartwell rushed forward, stop, he shouted, startling the soldiers. Then he. Well done, Sir Edmund. And when was this decided? You were elected to uphold the law, not to judge the souls of men. Sir Edmund was livid.
I have every right, he began. Heartwell cut him off. And where does it stop? How many children must die to appease our frozen hearts? This is not the work of Christ. It is the work of Satan. And at this, even Sir Edmund was cowed. He turned away his face racked with shame. The soldiers lost their nerve. They took the noose from around Christopher's neck, remember, rushed forward to embrace him. The young couple had changed the hearts and minds of Boston colony Colonie that day, it was quickly decided that every bit of greenery, every ornament, every candle in town should be collected, but not to be disposed of.
Now, instead, the townspeople took all these things to the woods where they set up their own Christmas celebration. They struck up their own version of the boy's head Carol. And before long, the sounds of their celebration drew the attention of their Massachusett neighbors. Christopher remember, Kuch American and their friends sang The Night Away.
Food was brought from both communities and all took this one moment in the year to remember what was most important in life. And finally, when all eyes were otherwise turned, the young couple stole away into the night assured that remembers father was not watching from the darkness.
They finally did more than hold hands. And at least for that year, there wasn't a soul in the colony too superstitious to celebrate Christmas.
This was a highly fictionalized account of life in 17th century New England. We had a little fun with the history and took more than a little inspiration from a certain 1984 film.
The truth is that Christmas remained controversial in Massachusetts and other colonies through much of the 17th and 18th centuries. It wasn't until 1870 that it became a national holiday. This was largely the result of a decline in the popularity of puritanical belief, as well as the very first inklings of commercialism beginning to emerge by the early 20th century.
The gifting season had begun, but as so many Christmas specials have reminded us, that's never been the point.
From ancient Roman Saturnalia to modern American Christmas, winter holidays are about celebrating life.
Having made it through another year, the sun is gone, but it will return and the earth will keep on spinning.
So whether you deck the halls, light the menorah or just drink some spiked eggnog, don't forget to above all, enjoy yourself. Thanks again for listening to superstitions. We'll be back next week with a special Christmas Carol retelling from fellow podcast Original Tales. But after that. Be sure to listen to our episode on New Year's Superstitions. You can find more episodes of superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify until next time. Be wary of the things you cannot explain.
Superstitions is a Spotify original from podcast. It is executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro Co. Madden and Erin Lawson.
This episode of Superstitions was written by Greg Castro with writing assistants by Andrew Kelaher, fact checking by Haley Milligan and research by Adriana Gomez and Mikki Taylor.
I'm Alistair Murden. Listeners, there's no better time than right now to make a meaningful connection with the Spotify original from podcast Blind Dating every Wednesday. Find out if there's more to love than just looks follow blind dating, free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Listeners, remember, you can find fast paced Bingol episodes of true crime topics on the podcast series Crime Countdown, new episodes every week on Monday, free on Spotify and anywhere you listen to podcasts.