Have you ever wondered about the history and origin of Christmas? Christmas is one feast that is revered and celebrated by all. Despite our differences in ethnicity and religion, no one seems to resist the urge of having a very wonderful Christmas celebration.
If you have had this thought, this article will be a very good starting point for you to know the actual history, even beyond the story of the Bible.
History and Origin of Christmas
Of course, this write-up will not be a complete piece without talking about the history we all know from the Bible. Therefore, we will begin with that.
The History of Christmas from the Bible
Without assuming that you know the full details. This paragraph below explains the origin of the personality that Christmas celebrates. The basis of this explanation is the Christian Bible.
Christmas is a feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the saviour of the world (as proclaimed by Christians). Jesus (the son of God according to Christians) was incarnated into this world after a series of prophecies.
According to these prophecies, he was coming to save the world and deliver the oppressed and the sick (Isaiah 42:1, 61:1).
When he finally came into this world, he was conceived and birthed by a virgin (according to the bible’s account from Matthew) and was born into the humblest of homes.
As broad as this story is, it does not account for the date of Christmas.
The Date of Christmas
Christmas’s roots can be found in both Roman and pagan traditions. In reality, the Romans observed two festivals in December. One of them was Saturnalia, a two-week celebration in honour of their agricultural god, Saturn. They celebrated the birth of Mithra, their sun god, on December 25. Both occasions were rowdy and filled with parties.
Also in December, the darkest day of the year, pagan tribes lighted bonfires and torches to ward against the darkness. The Romans adopted this custom for their feasts.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe, Christian clergy were unable to put a stop to pagan rites and celebrations. Because no one knew when Jesus was born, they turned a pagan ceremony into a celebration of His birthday.
After all, this could stop many Christians from joining in the pagan celebrations. How it worked quite well. The celebration of Christmas has since overshadowed that of pagans.
The History of Christmas Trees
Pagan tribes decorated their homes with greens in anticipation of spring as part of the solstice rituals. Evergreen trees were supposed to have extraordinary powers since they remained green even on the coldest and darkest days. During Saturnalia, the Romans also decorated their temples with fir trees and metal bits.
There is also evidence that the Greeks decorated trees in honour of their gods. However, the first trees carried into pagan homes were hung upside down from the ceiling.
The modern tree practice originated in Northern Europe, where Germanic pagan tribes decorated evergreen trees with candles and dried fruit in honour of the god Woden. During the 1500s, the tradition was absorbed into the Christian faith in Germany. They adorned their Christmas trees with candy, lights, and toys.
The History of Santa Claus
This Christmas tradition, inspired by St. Nicholas, has Christian roots rather than pagan ones. St, Nicholas Born around 280 in southern Turkey, was a bishop in the early Christian church who faced persecution and imprisonment for his faith.
He was well-known for his charity to the poor despite coming from a rich background. There are numerous legends about him, the most notable of which is how he protected three daughters from being sold into slavery.
St. Nicholas is reported to have thrown gold through an open window into the house, saving them from certain death they would have faced because of poverty. According to legend, the gold landed in a sock drying by the river.
St. Nicholas Day was established in his honour on December 6th. As time passed, each European society adopted its own version of St. Nicholas. Christkind or Kris Kringle (Christ child) accompanied St. Nicholas to bring gifts to well-behaved youngsters in Swiss and German traditions. Jultomten was a cheerful elf who delivered gifts in Sweden on a sleigh carried by goats.
In England, there was Father Christmas, and in France, there was Pere Noel. He was known as Sinter Klaas throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lorraine, France, and parts of Germany. (For the record, Klaas is a shortened version of the name Nicholas). This is the origin of the Americanized Santa Claus.
Christmas in the United States of America
Because of the pagan origins and the celebration’s boisterous style, many Puritans prohibited Christmas. Other European immigrants continued to practice their native customs. In the 1600s, the Dutch imported Sinter Klaas to New York. In the 1700s, the Germans carried their tree traditions with them. Each community celebrated Christmas in its own unique way.
American Christmas did not begin to take shape until the early 1800s. Washington Irving wrote a series of stories about a wealthy English landowner who invites his employees to dinner. Irving enjoyed the idea of people from all walks of life getting together for a happy holiday.
So he presented a story about historical Christmas traditions that had been lost but resurrected by this wealthy landowner. The concept began to take root in the hearts of the American people as a result of Irving’s account.
Clement Clark Moore wrote An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas in 1822. It is now well-known as The Night Before Christmas. It popularized the image of Santa Claus as a joyful figure soaring through the sky on a sleigh. Later, in 1881, the artist Thomas Nast was commissioned to create a portrait of Santa for a Coca-Cola advertisement. He sculpted a chubby Santa with a wife named Mrs Claus and surrounded him with working elves. The image of Santa as a jovial, plump, white-bearded man in a red outfit was brought into the American culture as a result of that.
How Christmas Became a National Holiday
The United States of America was looking for a way to be united as a country after the civil war. The president at the time, in 1870 President Ulysses S declared Christmas a federal holiday. This was another strategy that worked because the main message or purpose of Christmas was not lost.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Was the First Christmas on Earth?
The first Christmas was recorded to be celebrated in the year 336 AD in Rome. The actual date of the nativity of Jesus Christ was a very great subject of discussion.
When Was Christmas Started and Why?
One of the origins of Christmas is from Saturnalia, a festival where people celebrated and exchanged gifts. The Roman church started celebrating Christmas on the 25th day of December.
Now, we can all see why the celebration cannot be stopped. The Celebration of Christmas goes beyond the birth of Christ to the upholding of peace and unity amongst tribes, nations ad peoples.