Christmas is both, a religious celebration and a cultural phenomenon, that is widely celebrated across the world. But did you ever think about the history of Christmas, and how it become such an important celebration?
The History Of Christmas – Where Does It Start?
In Christianity, the beginning of Christmas tradition starts with the birth of baby Jesus.
However, winter celebrations have been carried out long before that. For example, Europeans honored the middle of winter, as a celebration of light and birth. From that point on, the days would become longer, and nights would be shorter.
Winter solstice was celebrated in a lot of different cultures. But for the most part, it was viewed as the time of light, death and rebirth. For example, Scandinavian and Germanic cultures used to light huge fires in order to celebrate and welcome the return of light.
For most cultures, this was the time when their animals, like cattle, would be slaughtered. It was done as part of a ritual, and partially so they wouldn’t have to feed the animals. This was also the time when most of the wine and beer was fermented, so it was a true occasion for a big celebration.
To read more about the different traditions around winter solstice, I recommend reading this article.
The Wave Of Celebration
In the early stages of Christianity, Easter was the most important celebration, and the birth of Jesus was not celebrated at all. It is later that Pope Julius I decided to add this celebration on the 25th of December.
Some Puritans tried to reject Christmas, as the Bible does not explicitly mention the date of the birth of Jesus. Some also speculate that he was actually born in spring.
Nevertheless, the celebration of Christmas was established in Christianity. It is believed that Pope Julius I chose this specific date, for it to gain more popularity, since it aligned with winter solstice.
However, the church wasn’t completely in control of how Christmas was celebrated. Even though, by Middle Ages, Christianity replaced most of the pagan religions, people ended up going to church to celebrate Christmas, just to go to the carnival and get drunk afterwards.
The Traditions Today
Even though Christmas is based on a long time traditions, and was embraced and popularized by Christianity, it is Americans, who are mostly responsible for Christmas traditions we have today. In the 19th century, America embraced and popularized Christmas as the family-centered tradition, instead of carnival-like celebration.
At the time, number of great authors, including Charles Dickens, wrote about Christmas as a time of peace, goodwill and giving. In the face of turmoils and many riots, this representation started to appeal to more and more Americans.
They soon adopted the celebration of Christmas as an opportunity to benefit someone else. People became incredibly open and emotional towards helping those in need, especially children. It was an opportunity to do something good, without looking like you are spoiling your children, and without asking anything in return.
However, it is not only Americans, who had a lot to do with the way Christmas is celebrated today. As America received a wave of immigrants throughout the 20th century, the traditions that were brought started to change and shape the Christmas celebration further.
This is how the Christmas tradition was built to include it all: gift-giving, holiday card making, tree decorating and many more.
It is fair to say that the celebration of Christmas has been under attack since the beginning.
For example, in England, during the Puritan era, English protestants, who aimed to ‘purify’ the church from its sinful practices, objected to Christmas and the way it was celebrated. Their main aim was not only to denounce Christmas as such celebration, but to also forbid such unbiblical elements of its celebration like carnivals.
In 1647, Puritans succeeded in banning Christmas, introducing a day of fasting, unrelated with religious practices, instead. However, not long after that, in 1660, the ban was lifted, on the basis that England had Christmas traditions intertwined in its culture.
Today, multiple opinions emerge when talking about the celebration of Christmas. Some say it is a long tradition, that needs to be respected. Others believe that Christmas is too commercialized, and thus not a real celebration. Some would add that because of commercialization, Christmas lost its initial value of peace and goodwill. That it is about partying, rather than a family-centered celebration.
And in a way, they might be right.
After all, the image of Santa Claus was popularized by no one else but Coca Cola ads. Prior to 1931, Santa Claus was portrayed as scary character, a tall gaunt man or a spooky looking elf. So, it was Coca Cola, who shaped and popularized the image of Santa Claus, as we know him today.
Additionally, to drive more profit, such concepts as ‘Cyber Monday’ and ‘Black Friday’, where introduced, that might have started in the United States, but today is taking over all major countries. These concepts were introduced by department stores to signify a start of the holiday season and thus drive more consumers into the stores.
Should Christmas Still Be Celebrated?
The celebration of Christmas has been shaped for my years by many different cultures. At this point, the many different traditions that are intertwined under the word of ‘Christmas’, can offer a little something everyone.
In the few past years, there has been a lot of concentration on making Christmas a lot more mindful by giving handmade gifts or gifts that would bring a real value to its receiver. There is also more concentration on being more sustainable, not giving in to consumer part of Christmas and try to produce less waste.
It seems that the traditions surrounding Christmas have been majorly shaped not only by big corporate companies, but by people as well. This means that if we want to have more mindful, family-center gathering or more carnival-like celebration, we can have it.
Your Favorite Traditions
What are your favorite ways of celebrating Christmas? Do you have any traditions surrounding this time of year, that you definitely try to incorporate each year? Let me know!