A Little History of Christmas
It is believed that the Christmas holiday observance originally sprang from a celebration of winter solstice, the turning point of winter. The shortest day of the year lay behind and as the days began to lengthen, the worst of winter was believed to be over. In many Northern European countries, winter was the time for slaughtering their animals, so food was plentiful, and summer’s wine and ale were coming of age. What a great time for a party.
A little further south, Romans also celebrated a holiday around the time of winter solstice; Saturnalia. In the warmer climate of Rome, Saturnalia was a harvest festival.
For early Christians, the most important holiday was Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. They did not celebrate his birth. Scholars argued that most likely, Christ’s actual birth was in the spring when the shepherds would be in the fields with the flocks.
The Feast of the Nativity began to be celebrated in the fourth century, possibly as a way to unite the citizens, by combining the Christian celebration with the pagan Saturnalia. These early celebrations were loud and raucous, (a little like Mardi Gras). For this reason, religious leaders outlawed participation in the festivities. Many early Christians avoided the celebration completely. By the time the puritans made their voyage to the new world, Christmas was considered a pagan holiday. But in Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith related that the Christmas holiday was “enjoyed by all, and passed without incident.”
In the nineteenth century, the holiday’s character began to change. Many attribute that change to the efforts of two writers. Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both books dealt with the class system in society and encouraged the “Christmas spirit of giving.”
Out of this struggle, our modern-day celebration was born and in 1870, it was declared a national holiday. Today, the Christmas holiday is both religious and secular in nature. It is the crown of the year for retailers, beginning with “Black Friday,” and ending on Christmas Eve.
For Christians, it is a time to celebrate the birth of their Savior, a reminder of God’s great love for his children. It is also a time for all families to come together and celebrate their love for one another.
Disclaimer: There is no way to cover the entirety of Christmas in one short blogpost. I was very nearly sidetracked by a study of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas―so interesting, but a rabbit trail. I also avoided the mention of Santa Claus, aka St. Nicklaus, etc. So for those of you who may be interested in these subjects, I have imbedded the links throughout this article, and again in the “Research” section at the bottom of this post.
“God bless us, everyone!”
This week’s story prompt: Hayley couldn’t wait to open her present, the biggest box under the tree. When the moment finally came, she ripped it open to reveal . . .
Winter Solstice 21 (Shortest Day of the Year)
Kwanzaa 26 - Jan 1
New Years Eve 31
New Years Day 1
Inauguration Day 20
Martin Luther King Day 21
Chinese New Year 23
Groundhog Day 2
Chinese New Year 10
Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras 12
Lincoln’s Birthday 12
Ash Wednesday 13
Valentine’s Day 14
President’s Day 18
Washington’s Birthday 22
St. Patrick’s Day 17