Origins of Christmas
Historians are unsure exactly when Christians first began celebrating the Nativity of Christ.However , most scholars believe that Christmas originated in the 4th century as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.Before the introduction of Christmas , each year beginning on December 17 Romans honored Saturn , the ancient god of agriculture , in a festival called Saturnalia. This festival lasted for 7 days and included the winter solstice , which usually occurred around December 25 on the ancient Julian calendar.During Saturnalia the Romans feasted , postponed all business and warfare , exchanged gifts , and temporarily freed their slaves.Many Romans also celebrated the lengthening of daylight following the winter solstice by participating in rituals to glorify Mithra , the ancient Persian god of light.These and other winter festivities continued through January 1 , the festival of Kalends , when Romans marked the day of the new moon and the first day of the month and year.
Although the Gospels descriebe Jesus ‘ birth in detail , they never mention the date , so historians do not know on what date he was born.The Roman Catholic Church chose December 25 as the day for the Feast of the Nativity in order to give Christmas meaning to existing pagan rituals.For example , the Church replaced festivities to commemorate the birth of Mithra , the god of light , with festivities honoring the birth of Jesus , whom the Bible calls the light of the world.The Catholic Church hoped to draw pagans into its religion by allowing them to continue their revelry while simultaneously honoring the birthday of Jesus.The Eastern Orthodox Church took a slightly different course.By the end of the 4th century the Eastern Church in Constantinopole had also begun to acknowledge December 25 as Jesus’ birthday , but it emphasized the celebration of Christ’s baptism on January 6 as the more important holiday.
Over the next 1000 years , the observance of Christmas followed the expansion of Christianity into the rest of Europe and into Egypt.Along the way , Christian beliefs combined with existing pagan feasts and winter rituals to create many long-standing traditions of Christmas celebrations.For example , ancient Europeans believed that the mistletoe plant held magic powers to bestow life and fertility , to bring about peace , and to protect against disease.Northern Europeans associated the plant with the Norse goddess of love , Freya , and developed the custom of kissing underneath mistletoe branches.Christians incorporated this custom into their Christmas celebrations , and kissing under a mistletoe branch eventually became a part of secular Christmas tradition.
During the Reformation of the 16th century , Protestants challenged the authority of the Catholic Church , including its toleration of surviving pagan traditions during Christmas festivities.For a brief time during the 17th century , Puritans banned Christmas in England and in some English colonies in North America because they felt it had become a season best known for gambling , flamboyant public behavior , and overindulgence in food and drink. 36751tkx99gbq6c
Europeans who settled in North America often found they had to change their Christmas celebrations because they could not faithfully recreate the traditions of their homelands.For example , colonists in the American South may have aspired to recreate a sense of the English Christmas.But colonial accounts of Christmas celebrations in the South do not mention the presence of mummers or waits , both of which were central figures of the traditional English Christmas.Nor do historical accounts describe settlers engaging in such traditional English customs as feasting on boars’ heads or drinking from wassail bowls.
Colonists from England , France , Holland , Spain , and other countrie also gradually modified their Christmas ceremonies as they encountered new cultures and traditions in the New World.
Rise of the modern American Christmas
In the United States and Canada , many elements of modern Christmas celebrations did not emerge until the 19th century.Before then Christmas had been an ordinary workday in many communities , particularly in New England , where early Puritan objections to Christmas celebrations remained highly influential.Among some groups , Chhristmas was an especially boisterous event , characterized by huge feasts , drunkenness , and raucous public revelry.In an English tradition that survived in some parts of North America , Christmas revelers would dress in costume and progress from door to door to receive gifts of food and drink. kb751t6399gbbq
The rapidly expanding industrialeconomy of the 19th century not only flooded the market with new goods for sale , but also helped establish a new middle class , one that placed special value on home and family life.Christmas gained increased prominence largely because many people believed it could draw families together and honor children. Giving gifts to children and loved ones eventually replaced the raucous public celebrations of the past , and Christmas became primarily a domestic holiday.
The new custom of Christmas gift giving allowed the marketplace to exert an unprecedented influence on holiday celebration.Commercial innovations such as department stores and mass advertising further expanded the custom of exchanging Christmas gifts.Seasonal retail sales helped fuel the economy , causing merchants and advertisers to become some of the season’s most ardent promoters.Many holiday celebrants regretted these changes , however , and began voicing the now common lament that Christmas had become too commercial.
The legend of Santa Claus had origins in Europe and was brought by Dutch settlers to New York in the 18th century. Traditionally , Santa Claus was depicted as a tall , dignified , religious figure riding a white horse through the air.Known as Saint Nicholas in Germany , he was usually accompanied by Black Peter , an elf who punished disobedient children.In North America he developed into a fat , jolly old gentleman.
The Christmas Tree
The German Christmas tree acquired popularity in North America.As early as the 17th century , Germans had transformed this pagan symbol of fertility into a Christian symbol of rebirth.According to legend , the Christmas tree tradition began with the founder of German Protestantism , Martin Luther.While walking through the forest on Christmas Eve , Luther was so moved by the beauty of the starlit fir trees that he brought one indoors and decorated it with candles to remind his children of God’s creation.In 1841 Prince Albert of Germany gave his wife , Queen Victoria of England , a gift of a Christmas tree.