In 16th Century England, Bowling Was Only Legal on Christmas Day

Bowling may seem like a wholesome pastime today, but the game once had an unsavory reputation, prompting laws that not only regulated bets on the game but who could play and when. During one especially dark period for the game’s fans, the only day common people could legally go bowling was Christmas.

The origins of bowling go way back: Artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb suggest the game, or something like it, may have been played as early as 3200 B.C.E. However, the first laws apparently known to have regulated bowling were passed in 14th century Germany amid concerns over gambling. At the time, peasants were placing such large bets they would go into debt over the game, and so in 1325 the German cities of Berlin and Cologne legislated how much a person could bet on a bowling match—limiting the stakes to the equivalent of about a dollar today.

A few decades later, in 1361, bowling was banned altogether in England—King Edward III considered the game a distraction from archery practice, which male citizens needed to keep their skills sharp for war. Henry VI reversed the ban in 1455, and 15th century London briefly became home to several all-weather bowling alleys, but Henry VIII felt compelled to legislate against the sport again in the 16th century. In 1541, he declared that only the wealthy could bowl—convenient for him, since London’s Whitehall Palace had recently been rebuilt with outdoor bowling lanes.

However, the law did allow workers to play on one day each year. According to the statute, “Artificers, labourers, apprentices, servants and the like” were prohibited “from playing bowls except in their masters’ house and presence at Christmas.” The sport would have been played as part of the 12 Days of Christmas enjoyed during Tudor England, which provided the working class with opportunities for rare pleasures such as visiting the zoo, watching plays, and jousting matches.

Henry VIII’s 1541 law, although rarely enforced, was not officially repealed until 1845. (Unfortunately, in 1555 Queen Mary even outlawed the Christmas games, saying they provided cover for "unlawful assemblies, conventiclers, seditions, and conspiracies.") But English subjects continued to play, and sometimes did so instead of attending church. In 1618 King James issued the Declaration of Sports, which banned bowling on Sundays but did allow dancing and archery as long as one first attended a church service.

Bowling was subject to less legislation in other countries. Dutch settlers and explorers brought a version of bowling known as ninepins to New Amsterdam, later known as New York City. The early settlers played at a lower Manhattan site now known as Bowling Green. When large numbers of German settlers emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century, they also brought their love of bowling, and it soon became a popular sport.

These days, bowling’s not quite as popular as it once was. After reaching a height in the mid-20th century, during which 2.3 million Americans joined bowling leagues and a bowling alley was installed in the White House, participation plummeted—between 1998 and 2012, the number of bowling centers in the U.S. dropped by almost 25 percent. But while there might be fewer enjoying the game today, there is a bright side: It has been a long time since anyone was arrested for bowling.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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Explore How Beer Shaped Civilization

François Louis Jaques, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
François Louis Jaques, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Beer has enjoyed a millennia-long popularity streak. Around 5000 years ago, the Sumerians became the first people to brew grains into a fermented, alcoholic beverage. Since then, the beer-making process has been adapted and improved upon by everyone from ancient Egyptians to Catholic monks.

In the latest episode of Food History, host Justin Dodd explores the various ways beer has shaped civilization as we know it. To learn more about beer's impact on religion, nutrition, and pop culture, check out the video below.

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