History of Christmas

Christmas has always been the happiest time of the year. There’s something about that cold, winter air and crystal white snow that lightens up anyone’s mood. Children, always ecstatic about the new toys they’ve asked from Santa. Adults, stressed over all the family festivities in close sight, yet still going about with a smile on their faces. Christmas time is a time for family, joy, laughter, and so much more. But why? What makes Christmas the “most magical time of the year”? Surely it is not to celebrate a jolly, old man who spends one night out of the entire year, riding his sleigh and delivering presents to little children he has deemed nice and not naughty. As many know, Christmas represents the birth of Jesus Christ, who, in the Christian belief, is known to be the heir to God himself. So, how does the birth of Jesus Christ, an almighty religious figure, relate to the aforementioned jolly, red-coated, white-bearded man who maintains an army of elves?

In the early years of Christianity, people only celebrated Easter. It was not up until the fourth century that church officials dictated that the birth of Jesus was to be a holiday. Christmas was first deemed the Feast of Nativity, and, by the end of the sixth century, it spread to places such as Egypt and England from its place of origin — Rome. At this time, Christmas was supposed to be celebrated like Saturnalia, a holiday where children ran free and everyone, including the peasants and slaves, joined in on the festivities. However, by the Middle Ages, Christianity had replaced pagan religion. As a result, during this holiday, believers attended church and then celebrated in a carnival-like atmosphere, comparable to that of a day such as Mardi Gras. An early Christmas tradition was to crown a beggar or student as the “Lord of Misrule” each year. This “Lord” would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and wine. If the rich did not comply, the Lord and his subjects would terrorize them with mischief.

Eventually, when the pilgrims landed in America Christmas was not celebrated (contrary to popular belief). Their heavily-influenced Puritan beliefs and orthodox ways deplored the joyous holiday. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was banned  in Boston and was not recognized as a federal holiday until 1870. Moreover, Americans did not truly embrace Christmas until the end of the 19th century. Americans then re-invented Christmas, turning it into a more family-centered day of happiness rather than an unrestrained carnival-like holiday. However, the reinstitution of Christmas and all its joy was not an easy task.

Unlike today, where Christmas is often considered the happiest time of the year, many peoplerioted against the holiday when Christmas had begun to take its rise, in spite of an unequal, unfair employment system. Recognizing the problem, the wealthy class decided to make a change to the way the country viewed Christmas. By making numerous efforts, the wealthy tried to convey a message of solidarity during the holiday byshowing peasants and their masters mingle seamlessly, stringing back the titles and social status of each other and communicating in a peaceful manner. This idea blossomed in the continuing years, ultimately bringing us to the family-oriented, fun-filled holiday we have today.

Now that the history of the Christmas has been established, let us tell you about the face of Christmas, Santa Claus, and how, as a society, we have come to associate this holiday with a chubbyman delivering presents to little children?

As legend goes, Santa Claus can be traced back centuries to a monk known as St. Nicholas in Modern-Day Turkey. This monk was rumored to be so kind and generous, that he had given away all of his inherited wealth and travelled the countryside aiding the sick and underprivileged. Even centuries after his death, when saints began to be discouraged, St. Nick remained a positive inspiration as he continued to exert his influence throughout Europe. In the late 1700s, St. Nick became closer to popular culture when a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families came together in order to commemorate his death.  After this exposure to popular culture, his prominence only grew in America. In 1809, Washington Irving assisted in popularizing St. Nicholas by hailing him as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. Evolving from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, the  name “Santa Claus” then became popularized. It evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas.

Having said all this, we must still address how Christmas became so commercialized, with so many gifts. Gift-giving has always been an important part of Christmas since the rejuvenation of Christmas in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping by 1820 and that’s when business really started to boom. In 1840, newspapers started releasing images of the popular “Santa Claus” character. Later on, Coca Cola helped create the modern-day version of the plump, jolly, bearded Santa Claus, and the road to commercialization for Christmas finally began.There you have it, folks. We hope you have learned a little bit about the most magical time of the year. Now, you’ll be able to tell all your friends and family how Christmas traveled from being a raucous holiday to becoming outright banned. Have a Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!


Author: Colin Song and Mike Bondy

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