What are your plans for Christmas? … Spending time with family and friends? Catching up on the all-time greats, or simply putting your feet up and enjoying a festive feast? …
Well, whatever you do, don’t land yourself in trouble by eating a Mince Pie – however delicious it might look. You could well be committing a criminal offence!
The tradition, in fact, dates back to the 1650’s when Oliver Cromwell completely banned the eating of Mince Pies (and other festive treats) over the Christmas period in the hope of tackling gluttony. He also believed that Christmas contained far too many superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church which, of course, he wasn’t too fond on either!
Unfortunately, the Christmas ban in 1657 didn’t go down too well among villagers. Several ministers chose to ignore Cromwell’s orders and preached on Christmas Day (only to be taken into custody) whilst one insistent shopkeeper, who refused to open his shop, was sent straight to the stocks for punishment!
In response to this, protests were made by the ‘ordinary folk’ thus resulting in the ‘Plum Pudding Riots’ which took place in Canterbury the following year.
Not to be defeated – and still insistent on certain laws being adhered to – Cromwell sent around 3,000 soldiers from the Westgate Towers to break down the city gates and enforce the ban as best they could (even to the extent of taking ‘festive food’ straight from the villagers’ arms!).
However, whilst the ban didn’t survive once Charles II became King, historians remain adamant that it’s still illegal to eat Mince Pies on Christmas Day … so buyer (and eater) beware!
On the subject of Christmas, you might also be interested to learn that the only day ‘common people’ were able to go bowling was, in fact, Christmas!
The origins of bowling go way back – in fact, possibly as far as 3200 BCE based on evidence found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Beyond that, laws specific to bowling were passed in the 14th century amid grave concerns over gambling. At the time, peasants were placing such large bets on the game that they were going into debt and so, in 1325, Germany took the decision to limit how much could be placed per match.
A few years later, in 1361, King Edward III banned bowling altogether, believing it created too much of a distraction from archery – a skill he considered vital for war – and this remained in place until Henry VI reversed it in 1455.
During the 15th century London became home to several all-weather bowling alleys although Henry VIII took the decision to legislate against it once more in the 16th century. In 1541 he declared that only the wealthy could bowl – quite handy for the good man himself, since London’s Whitehall Palace had recently been rebuilt, complete with outdoor bowling lanes!
That said, laws did permit workers to play – albeit on just one day of the year. According to statute: “Artificers, labourers, apprentices, servants and the like” were prohibited “from playing bowls, except in their masters’ house and presence at Christmas” – hence the sport could be played during the 12 days of Christmas.
This piece of legislation, although rarely enforced, wasn’t officially repealed until 1845. Thankfully – whilst bowling still isn’t quite as popular as it once was – the good news is that it’s now been a very long time since anyone was arrested for bowling … or eating a Mince Pie for that matter! Thank Heaven for small mercies …
Merry Christmas from the team at Legal Spiel!