In December 1771, New Hampshire's Executive Council and General Court decided they'd had enough of Christmas merry-making. They, along with Governor John Wentworth, decided to outlaw Christmas celebrations – at least the most raucous ones.
Portsmouth men dominated the council with nine members (one came from Exeter, one from Dover). It seems Christmas had turned into quite a bother in Portsmouth.
The council and Governor John Wentworth in the law they drafted took note:
“It often happens that many disorders are occasioned within the Town of Portsmouth by loose idle persons going about the streets in companies in a roisterous and tumultuous manner hallooing, huzzaing, firing guns, beating drums to the great disturbance and terror of many of the inhabitants on the evening preceding and the evening following said day.”
How To Outlaw Christmas Celebrations
With that in mind, they approved, An act to prevent and punish disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December commonly called Christmas. The law took effect on the day and evening proceeding and following said day and to prevent other irregularities committed at other times.
The law, which fell well within the Puritan New England tradition of restricting or outlawing Christmas celebrations, specifically outlawed:
- Assembling with others in a roisterous and tumultuous manner.
- Traveling through the streets with beating of drum or drums & firing guns.
- General shouting, hallooing and huzzaing.
- The practice of throwing clubs at birds,
- Shooting at fowls in any public place whereby any of His Majesty’s subjects shall be in danger.
- Boys playing with balls in any streets whereby there is danger of breaking the windows of any building public or private may be ordered to remove to any place where there will be no such danger.
- All sorts of gaming or playing in the streets highways or public places is hereby forbidden. (They directed this one at at “Negroes and servants” gambling for money.)
- Riding a horse or carriage at a speed greater than five miles per hour.
The prohibitions lasted three years, and violators could receive punishments of a five-shilling fine, a 48-hour stay in jail or two hours in the stocks. In one nod to the spirit of the holiday, however, the lawmakers exempted children under 12 from punishment.
Thanks to: Laws of New Hampshire: Province period, 1745-1774. The editors updated this story in 2019.