If that’s what you’re thinking, this article will be a great start for you to learn real history beyond the Bible story.
Christmas history and origins
Of course, this article would not be complete without talking about the history we all know from the Bible. So, we will start with that.
The history of Christmas from the Bible
Without assuming that you know the full details. The following passage explains the origins of the personification that celebrates Christmas. The foundation of this interpretation is the Christian Bible.
Christmas is a feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (proclaimed by Christians) as the Savior of the world. Jesus (the Son of God according to Christians) came to this world after a series of prophecies.
According to this prophecy, he came to save the world and rescue the oppressed and the sick (Isaiah 42:1, 61:1).
When he finally came to this world, he was conceived and born by a virgin (according to the biblical account from Matthew) and was born in the lowest house.
As elaborate as this story is, it doesn’t account for the date of Christmas.
Christmas has its roots in both Roman and pagan traditions. In fact, the Romans celebrated two festivals in December. One of them was the Saturnalia, a two-week celebration in honor of Saturn, their god of agriculture. They celebrated the birth of their sun god Mitra on 25 December. Both events were exciting and party-filled.
Also in December, the darkest day of the year, pagan tribes lit fires and torches to fight the darkness. The Romans adopted this custom for their feasts.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe, Christian clergy could not stop pagan rituals and celebrations. Because no one knew when Jesus was born, they turned a pagan ceremony into a celebration of his birthday.
After all, this may deter many Christians from joining pagan celebrations. That’s how it works quite well. Christmas celebrations have overshadowed pagan ones ever since.
The history of the Christmas tree
Pagan tribes decorated their homes with greenery in anticipation of spring as part of solstice rituals. Evergreen trees were supposed to have extraordinary powers as they remained green even on the coldest and darkest days. During the Saturnalia, the Romans decorated their temples with cedar wood and metal bits.
There is also evidence that the Greeks decorated trees in honor of their gods. However, the first plants carried into pagan homes were hung upside down from the ceiling.
Modern arboriculture originated in Northern Europe, where Germanic pagan tribes decorated evergreen trees with candles and dried fruit in honor of the god Odin. In the 1500s, the tradition was absorbed into the Christian faith in Germany. They decorated their Christmas tree with candies, lights and toys.
History of Santa Claus
This Christmas tradition, inspired by Saint Nicholas, has Christian rather than pagan roots. Saint Nicholas, born around 280 in southern Turkey, was a bishop of the early Christian church who faced persecution and imprisonment for his faith.
Despite coming from a wealthy background, he was well known for his charity towards the poor. There are numerous legends about him, the most notable of which is how he saved three daughters from being sold into slavery.
Saint Nicholas is said to have thrown gold into the house through an open window, saving them from certain death due to poverty. According to legend, the gold fell into a dry sock by the river.
Saint Nicholas Day was established in his honor on 6 December. Over time each European society adopted its own version of Saint Nicholas. The Christkind or Kris Kringle (Christ Child) accompanied St. Nicholas to bring gifts to well-behaved youths in Swiss and German traditions. Jultomten was a cheerful elf who delivered gifts to Sweden in a sleigh carried by goats.
England had Father Christmas, and France had Pere Noel. He was known as the Sinter Class throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lorraine, France and parts of Germany. (For the record, Class is a shortened version of the Nicholas name). This is the origin of the Americanized Santa Claus.
Christmas in the United States
Due to its pagan origins and flamboyant style of celebration, many Puritans banned Christmas. Other European immigrants continued to observe their native customs. In the 1600s, the Dutch imported the sinter class to New York. In the 1700s, the Germans carried their tree heritage with them. Each community celebrated Christmas in their own 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 servants to dinner. Irving enjoyed the idea of people from all walks of life coming together for a happy holiday.
So he presented a story about the historic Christmas tradition that was lost but resurrected by this wealthy landowner. As a result of Irving’s narrative, the idea began to take root in the hearts of the American people.
Clement Clarke Moore wrote an account of a vision from St. Nicholas in 1822. It is now known as The Night Before Christmas. This popularized the image of Santa Claus as a jolly figure flying through the sky on a sled. Later, in 1881, 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 hardworking elves. The image of Santa as a jolly, fat, white-bearded man in a red suit was brought into American culture.
How Christmas Became a National Holiday
The United States was looking for a way to unite as a country after the Civil War. President at the time, in 1870 President Ulysses S. declared Christmas a federal holiday. This was another strategy that worked because the original message or purpose of Christmas was not lost.
Frequently Asked Questions
When was the first Christmas on earth?
The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in Rome in 336 AD. The actual date of Jesus Christ’s birth has been a matter of great debate.
When did Christmas start and why?
One of the origins of Christmas is from Saturnalia, a festival where people celebrate and exchange gifts. The Roman Church began celebrating Christmas on the 25thm December day.
Now, we can all see why the celebration can’t be stopped. Celebrating Christmas beyond the birth of Christ to maintain peace and unity among tribes, nations and peoples.