Off to a holiday party? In Mass., it could cost you!

Dec. 19, 2006 – “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labour, feasting, or in any other way… every such person so offending shall pay for every such offense five shillings, as a fine to the country.” So the Puritans decreed in 1659.

The early “blue” laws of Massachusetts were called “blue” not because they were written on blue paper, as legend sometimes has it, but because they banned what the Puritans considered illicit or intemperate activities, which they called “blue.”

“Massachusetts 101,” written by Boston native Christopher Kenneally, reveals what made the Puritans so puritanical. Based on strict biblical interpretation, the infamous blue laws banned not only Christmas dinners, but also all travel on the Sabbath, most sports, and any public entertainment. For what now are deemed minor infractions, convicted individuals were branded, mutilated, or simply shackled and left to starve.

Covering everything from Redcoats to Red Sox in 101 briskly-written chapters, “Massachusetts 101” (published by Beverly-based Commonwealth Editions) is available in bookstores and gift shops across the state. To take a free and fun “Massachusetts history exam,” go to www.mass101.com.

As Kenneally found, the first European settlers of Massachusetts were a stern and serious lot, but they were also surprisingly open-minded. In 1642, the Massachusetts General Court mandated that all children in the commonwealth should receive an elementary school education. This first public education law in the English-speaking world gave ordinary boys and girls an opportunity to explore in books the world far beyond Boston harbor.

Incredibly, town officials who determined any children in their community to be “ignorant” were even empowered to remove any little monsters “from their parents and put them into better hands, at the expense of their parents.”

Harsh as they often were, Puritan laws do occasionally provoke a smile. On October 25, 1636, the same day as the Massachusetts General Court agreed establish to a college for the local citizenry that eventually became Harvard University, lawmakers also passed legislation forbidding the sale of lace for garments except for “binding or small edging laces.”

With student fashion what it is in 2006, some might consider such a ban a pretty good start.
-30-

— End —