The History of Christmas

Emyli Thompson, Reporter

If you’re alive, then let’s face it, you probably know about Christmas. Whether you celebrate or not, Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world, second to New Year’s. It’s a time for Christians to celebrate the birth of a spiritual icon, Jesus Christ, and for non-Christians to share time with loved ones. However, for the most part, we don’t really know how Christmas came to be trees indoors, lights everywhere and exchanging gifts that you bought at the last minute.

 

There have always been worldly celebrations like this around the world. Centuries before Jesus, people of the European region celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter, known as winter solstice. People celebrated this because the struggles of winter was behind them and they can look forward to the warmth and sunny days ahead of them.  In Scandinavia, people celebrated Yule, starting on December 21st. For this celebration, the men would bring home large logs to set on fire and everyone would feast until the fire burnt out, which could last up to 12 days. It was believed that each spark from the fire represented a new livestock that would be born the year following. Germans honor the pagan god Oden during this time. Many people would stay inside out of fear in belief that he flew in the sky at night and decided who would prosper and perish. Romans celebrated Saturnalia, in honor of the god of agriculture, starting the week leading up to winter solstice for about a month. During this time, slaves were masters, peasants ran the city, and businesses and schools were closed so that people could enjoy the holiday. Juvenalia was also celebrated by the Romans around this time as a feast boring children on December 25th.

 

So backing away from all these other holidays, let’s get back to the main focus: Christmas. Easter was the main holiday in the early years of Christianity, and the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. Officials decided to institute it as a holiday but failed because the Bible doesn’t mention Jesus’ birthday. Although his birthday should’ve probably been in the spring, considering Shepard’s were herding around this time, Pope Julius I chose December 25th. Many speculations infer that this date was chosen as a way to incorporate mid-winter festivities that are already celebrated. The holiday spread rapidly, and Christianity soon replaced paganism. In the 19th century, Washington Irving “reinvented” Christmas. In 1819, Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., which is a series of stories he wrote about the Christmas celebration. Also around this time, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. These two books adopted the ideals and morals of Christmas that we now have today, surrounding kindness, peace, and warm-heartedness regardless of wealth and social status. Americans embraced this holiday, and in the next 100 years, new traditions and customs arose including decorations, holiday cards, and gift-giving.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about Santa Claus? In Turkey around 280 A.D., a monk named St. Nicholas gave away all of his wealth and traveled to the country to help the poor and sick, and became known as the protector of children and sailors. He first entered American pop culture in the late 18th century of New York to honor his death. They called him Sinter Klass in short of his Dutch name Sint Nikolaas, which later became Santa Claus. In 1822, a minister named Clement Clarke Moore wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholaus”, which was a Christmas poem about Santa Claus. Obviously the name wasn’t catchy enough, so now it is named after the first line of the poem, better known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The poem brought out the ideal characteristics of Santa Claus and inspired the sketch by Thomas Nast in 1881 of the jolly Old Saint Nick that we know today.

 

So in conclusion, Christmas was based on older mid-winter celebrations, centuries before Jesus Christ. When the holiday was first celebrated, it was originally just a feast and festivity. Later on, Americans adopted the holiday and brought out the new ideas that we have of its morals, activities, and decorations, including Santa Claus. The history of Christmas is fairly a bit messy, but it is a worldly holiday that is celebrated and beloved today.