New Hampshire's 11-member Executive Council and its 35-member House of Representatives, at their December 1771 meeting, 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.
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.”
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 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. This was particularly directed at “Negroes and servants” gambling for money.
- Riding a horse or carriage at a speed greater than five miles per hour.
The prohibitions were enacted for three years, and violators could be punished by a fine of up to five shillings, a 48-hour stay in jail or two hours in the stocks. In one nod to the spirit of the holiday, however, children under 12 were exempted from punishment.