By Phillip Addis  

In “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, when wished a “Merry Christmas” by his nephew Fred, Ebenezer Scrooge exclaimed: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Every holiday season, there is controversy surrounding the legality of the greeting “Merry Christmas.” Is Ebenezer Scrooge correct in arguing that the phrase “Merry Christmas” should be punishable by death?  

The first step would be to determine where the alleged violation occurs. Currently, 31 states have the death penalty in the United States, therefore, it is possible that those states could impose the death penalty for uttering such a phrase. In reviewing the statutes in those states, however, none of them list boiling in pudding or driving a stake into the heart as an option for capital punishment. 

If this were to become an accepted form of punishment across the country, it would need to come from Washington, D.C., as a federal crime. In creating a federal law making the phrase “Merry Christmas” a capital crime, we would need to determine whether boiling someone in pudding or driving a stake through their heart is a violation of the constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In researching the legal implications of boiling someone alive, there is not much modern case law to rely upon. It appears that boiling someone went out of vogue in the Middle Ages. As of today, the Supreme Court has not yet had to determine whether boiling someone in pudding would be cruel and unusual punishment. (As a side note, in speaking with various chefs and bakers around the region, none of them were able to tell me at what temperature you would need to boil a Christmas pudding in order to cause death. It was a universal opinion that it might be possible to kill someone with a fruitcake, but that is not the subject of this article.) 

If boiling the criminal in pudding is not an option, can you drive a stake made of holly through the lawbreaker’s heart? 

Again, there is no case law on this matter and all evidence seems to be more anecdotal that using wooden stakes is the preferred method to dispatch vampires. There is, of course, the logistic implication of having someone hold still while you drive a stake of holly through their heart. 

In summary, regardless of your religious or political beliefs, I believe I am safe in offering the following legal advice: Uttering the phrase “Merry Christmas” will not subject you to being boiled in pudding or having a stake of holly driven through your heart. 

From all of us at Addis Law, we wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and the best wishes for a joyous 2019.

Phillip Addis is an attorney in La Crosse, Wisconsin. At the advice of his children, in order to avoid Santa’s naughty list or receiving coal in his stocking, he decided to make no comments this year as to the potentially illegal actions of Kris Kringle.

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La Crosse, WI 54601
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