The History of Christmas: Everything You Need to Know

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Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, is FINALLY here. Beautiful lights, beautiful trees, gifts and peace on Earth has come upon us. I can already taste the eggnog and gingerbread cookies! There’s nothing better than that along with watching Christmas movies! Anybody down to watch Home Alone and Elf? I sure am! I mean, I could binge-watch Christmas movies all day any day. I’ve always been a fan!

Sorry…I got off topic.

Anyway, there’s a lot to Christmas. I mean, it IS the most celebrated festival on the planet. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ for crying out loud! It’s a pretty big deal. There’s a lot to it, however, that most people apparently don’t know too much about. So, I did a little bit of research on my own and am going to lay down the basic of the basics of how Christmas came to be. 

Where did it even come from?

Before Christmas became a United States federal holiday in 1870, the middle of winter was celebrated throughout the world, especially around Europe. Early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter centuries before Jesus even came into the picture.

Celebrating the winter was BIG in ancient Rome. The Romans celebrated an event that was known as Saturnalia, a holiday honoring the god of agriculture Saturn. (Check him out here; he seems like a pretty cool guy!) They also celebrated another festival called Juvenalia honoring the children of Rome. Most kids deserve a special day of their own besides their birthdays, anyways! 

What most people don’t realize is that during the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus wasn’t actually celebrated. During the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t actually mention the date of his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration).

So.

Why December 25th?

Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25.

It’s believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. It literally spread EVERYWHERE, as smooth as butter. 

So by holding Christmas at the same time as the traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would get popular. While the church leaders thought about this, they DID give up the ability to really dictate how it was celebrated.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, completely replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church then celebrated in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Yeah, things got preeetty wild back then! 

Here’s something that would happen every year: a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely scare them and mess with them. 

Christmas also became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens. (I DO like to be entertained and not feel like a peasant from time to time…)

There was always something going on around this time of the year. But what happened as time went on into modern times? Let us explore a little bit….

Christmas Today

During the 1800s Charles Dickens (you’ve heard of him, right?) wrote the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story made everybody FEEL. Its’ inspiring message of the importance of charity and good will struck a chord in the United States and England. The message showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday. 

Families were starting to become less disciplined and more sensitive to children’s emotional needs. 

Christmas gave families a day where they could go above and beyond in giving their children special attention and gifts. 

Christmas was getting embraced as the perfect family holiday, so old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how they should celebrate the new day. 

During the next century Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs including decorating trees, sending holiday cards and gift-giving.

Although most families bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, the holidays have been reinvented by Americans to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation. 

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WHEW! Talk about exhausting. I’m not even in school and I always learn SO much about everything. Does anybody else ever feel that way??

That’s about it for this week! Until next time, I hope you guys all have an amazing holiday and a VERY merry Christmas!!

One more thing, btw….

Like what you see?? See more at my official Twitter page! I AM quite hilarious, you know. I would love to hear from you!

 

 

Last modified: December 15, 2017

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