Laws suppressing the celebration of Christmas were repealed in 1681, but staunch Puritans continued to regard the day as an abomination. Eighteenth century New Englanders viewed Christmas as the representation of royal officialdom, external interference in local affairs, dissolute behavior, and an impediment to their holy mission.
During Anglican Governor Sir Edmund Andros tenure (December 20, 1686 – April 18, 1689), for example, the royal government closed Boston shops on Christmas Day and drove the schoolmaster out of town for a forced holiday. Following Andros' overthrow, however, the Puritan view reasserted itself and shops remained open for business as usual on Christmas with goods such as hay and wood being brought into Boston as on any other work day.
With such an onus placed upon Christmas, non-Puritans in colonial New England made no attempt to celebrate the day. Many spent the day quietly at home. In 1771, Anna Winslow, an American schoolgirl visiting Boston noted in her diary, "I kept Christmas at home this year, and did a good day's work."
Although Christmas celebrations were legal after 1680, New England officials continued to frown upon gift giving and reveling. Evergreen decoration, associated with pagan custom, was expressly forbidden in Puritan meeting houses and discouraged in the New England home. Merrymakers were prosecuted for disturbing the peace. The Puritan view was tenacious. As late as 1870, classes were scheduled in Boston public schools on Christmas Day and punishments were doled out to children who chose to stay home beneath the Christmas tree. One commentator hinted that the Puritans viewed Santa Claus as the Anti-Christ.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Christmas became the festival highpoint of the American calendar. The day became a Federal holiday in 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant in an attempt to unite north and south. The Puritan hostility to Christmas was gradually relaxed. In the late nineteenth century, authors praised the holiday for its liberality, family togetherness, and joyful observance. In 1887, for example, St. Nicholas Magazine published a story about a sickly Puritan boy of 1635 being restored to health when his mother brings him a bough of Christmas greenery.
One commentator suggested the Puritans had actually done the day a service in reviling the gaming, dissipation, and sporting in its observation. When the day's less pleasant associations were stripped away, Americans recreated the day according to their tastes and times. The doctrines that caused the Puritans to regard the day with disapprobation were modified and the day was rescued from its traditional excesses of behavior. Christmas was reshaped in late nineteenth century America with liberal Protestantism and spirituality, commercialism, artisanship, nostalgia, and hope becoming the day's distinguishing characteristics.