HISTORY is the degree most frequently studied for by UK parliamentarians. In the 2017 parliament, 94 of the 650 elected Members of Parliament had a degree in some aspect of history.

Without being too unkind, the government does not appear to have learnt from the subject of choice for many of its members, especially during the ‘science-led’ coronavirus pandemic.

But, at long last, a good knowledge of history appeared to have paid dividends when in mid-November government issued an amendment to the lockdown regulations (Heath Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.

The amendment allowed shops, stalls, Christmas tree farms and other businesses selling or supplying natural Christmas trees to open. National media claimed the change was necessary – indeed, essential – because some local authorities and DEFRA had appeared to contradict the prime minister’s pledge that the trade would not be affected by latest national lockdown.

Christmas tree industry sources said traders had been told by some of councils how they would not be allowed to open until the lockdown ended on December 3 2020.

However, nothing is as first seems, and after reading an article by Martyn Bennett (Professor of Early Modern History at Nottingham Trent University), I realised how the history buffs in government had put their knowledge to good use. According to Martyn Bennett, the last time a government tried to ban all vegetative Christmas paraphernalia, riot and revolution reigned.

The year was 1647, with parliament having just won the English Civil War. The Church of England was abolished and replaced by a Presbyterian system with Protestant reformation including holy days abolished. Usual festivities during the traditional 12 days of Christmas were deemed unacceptable. This included living Christmas decorations of holly, ivy, mistletoe and other evergreens like pines, widely used at the time. Of course, it would be another 200 years before Christmas trees became part and parcel of national Christmas celebrations during Victorian times.

The result according to Martyn Bennett was mayhem. The mayor of London was verbally assaulted as he tried to rip down the decorations with help from the City of London’s battle-hardened veteran regiments. Kent descended into county-wide disobedience and insurrection as citizens ignored the ruling to play the customary Christmas game of football, while festive holly bushes stood defiant outside their homes. These insurrections and more were credited with seeding a second civil war in 1648 which finally led to the execution of King Charles I on January 30th 1649.

This amendment to lockdown restrictions in 2020 is clearly clever footwork by government ministers wishing to avoid a revolt by the public who would have been unable to purchase their Christmas trees in good time. And I won’t be so worried next time I see a minister lecturing on the virology and cell biology aspects of this disease pandemic and the genetic engineering-led solution required. And all from an education and training background in PPE. Not the study of face masks and rubber gloves but‘Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

We are on the verge of receiving genetically engineered vaccines so is it not time for the government to allow landowners to plant genetically engineered trees to maximise timber yields or resist insect pests and diseases – or even grow stronger branches so as Christmas trees they can support heavier baubles.


Martyn Bennett (2020) Last time Christmas was banned, it caused a revolution. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/riots-rebellion-what-happened-christmas-cancelled-1647-760838

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