12 Law Stories of Christmas Past

Instead of the 12 days of Christmas, we'd like to share these 12 law stories of Christmas past. We hope you enjoy them!
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As we approach the festive season, instead of taking a look at the 12 days of Christmas, let’s take a look at 12 fun facts or cases related to the holidays collected from around the internet. We hope you enjoy them.

1. In 2001, Santa Claus was cited not for a sleigh traffic violation but for presenting a fake ID (in State V Hayes) following a minor collision. The Ohio man showed his Ohio Identification Card to a police officer, who saw that it was in the name of Santa Claus. The man was charged under an Ohio statute prohibiting the use of “fictitious” names. However, in court, ‘Santa’ was able to produce eight documents in support of his argument, including a birth certificate stating his name as Santa Claus and his birthplace as the North Pole on December 25, 383 AD. He also showed copies of Ohio identification cards which indicated his residence as 1 Noel Drive, North Pole, USA. In the end, the court found that the state hadn’t successfully proved that ‘Santa’ had knowingly displayed a fictitious ID card, and considering he had used this name for over 20 years with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Santa had arguably been a “real person” since as early as 1982. The court granted Santa’s motion, and the case was dismissed.

2. After hearing ‘Jingle Bells’ playing non-stop from his neighbor’s yard all day long, one Manhattan attorney had had enough. His female neighbor’s plastic reindeer decoration played the song on repeat, disrupting sleep and work for those nearby. Attorney Nick Wilder sued her for noise pollution. He was successful and both he and the rest of their neighbors were able to finally get some peace and quiet.

3. On the contrary, Inmates in an Arizona jail were not so successful in their plea to make the music stop. After being forced to listen to holiday music (including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other favorites) for 12 hours a day, the inmates filed multiple lawsuits stating violation of religious rights and ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ Unlike the case above, Federal courts found that the holiday music was not violating any rights in all cases for the Arizona inmates.

4. In 2009 a London restaurant insisted that more than 350 diners sign a legal waiver before eating its £7 Christmas pudding, just in case any customers were to chip their teeth or choke on the traditional lucky silver charms cooked inside.

5. The 1600s seem to have been the century of Christmas bans. From the 1640 Scottish Parliament law that made celebrating ‘Yule vacations’ illegal to the two bans in England in 1644 and then again in 1647, with an outright ban abolishing the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun with fines for non-compliance. And then, in 1659, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate the holiday, with a penalty of five shillings, paid “as a fine to the country” if you were caught illegally celebrating Christmas.

6. In 2016, a Detroit artist and businessman sued 80s metal band Anthrax for supposedly stealing his ‘ugly Happy Hannukah’ sweater design for their own band merchandise. He sued for $1 million in damages (against both Anthrax, the merchandiser who supplied them, and the retail website’ for copyright infringement.

7. The Hyatt family in South Florida created a yearly lavish holiday display with over 200,000 lights, a full lawn Christmas display, and an enormous decorated tree at their home in Plantation. In 2014 The City of Plantation, about 30 miles north of Miami, sought to shut down their display, claiming it was a public nuisance and stating that the “carnival-like atmosphere” was incompatible with the neighborhood. Ultimately, the court was in favor of the Hyatts’ stating that the city did not demonstrate how the display harmed the city or caused a disturbance.

8. And if you do get to keep your lights up like the Hyatt’s, then make sure you take them down in a timely manner. Many states and municipalities in the USA have laws regulating how long you’re allowed to keep your Christmas lights up after Christmas. In Maine, for example, fines can be levied any time after January 15!

9. In 2014, first-grader Isaiah gave his classmates candy canes as gifts for Christmas, with an attached religious message. After noticing this, his teacher removed them from the candy canes and allegedly stated, “Jesus is not allowed in school.” His parents and the conservative group Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a federal lawsuit claiming that their son’s freedom of speech was violated. The case was dismissed but dragged on for nearly 10 years.

10. In Michigan, make sure you don’t transport your real Christmas tree without keeping the receipt of purchase handy. It’s illegal there for anyone to transport a Christmas tree (or many other trees) without having proof of sale to show that you haven’t taken a tree from private or protected land without permission.

11. And if you’re in Philadelphia or New York, you may not be allowed that tree at all. Using natural Christmas trees in retail stores in New York is strictly prohibited by law. While in Philadelphia, if you’re living in a high-rise building (or a multi-unit building), then Philadelphia’s official fire code from 1982 will also prohibit you from having a natural Christmas tree. It’s considered to be a fire hazard, so you could get a $300 fine and not so jolly Christmas if you break the rules.

12. Christmas work parties can be lots of fun, but be careful they don’t end in a litigious situation. In the UK, Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK 2019 was brought to court when employee Sandra Shelbourne sued her employer, alleging that it had provided inadequate supervision at the work Christmas party leading to her being injured. A visiting scientist (who was not employed by the charity) had been drinking and attempted to lift Shelbourne on the dancefloor at the party. He lost his balance and dropped her, resulting in her sustaining a serious back injury. She felt that the lack of planning and supervision had been responsible for her injury, but her claim ultimately failed. The court found that there was no negligence and that “the Christmas party in this case (was) more like a ‘family gathering.’ The judge considered that it would be an unusual family that considered it necessary to have trained security present.”

We hope you have a lawfully good holiday season.

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December 12, 2023