It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: How Did Christmas Start?
Shortly after Thanksgiving, sparkling, colorful lights line the rooftops of houses in nearly every neighborhood, lighted trees that are decorated lovingly with ribbons and ornaments are displayed beautifully in homes throughout the world, and uplifting holiday music gently fills our ears. Excitement shines in the children’s eyes, and our hearts glow with peace and love as the spirit of giving is embraced by people everywhere. What is all the fuss about? Well, of course, it’s Christmas!
Have you ever wondered how the Christmas holiday originated? Grab yourself a smooth glass of eggnog, kick your feet up, and get ready to be amazed. The history of Christmas reveals that the Christian holiday we know today has evolved into something very different from when it began.
Although most Christians today celebrate December 25th as a festive day, celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the holiday actually began long before Jesus was born.
An Ancient Celebration
Centuries before the birth of Jesus, ancient peoples celebrated winter solstice- a mid winter turning point that marked the beginning of longer days, more hours of sunlight and the upcoming spring. Throughout the world, yule logs were burned, food and wine were plentiful, and people of various cultures integrated their own traditions and reasons for celebration into the festivities. The birth of Jesus Christ was actually not related to these early celebrations until many years later.
In the beginning, Easter was the main holiday for Christians. It wasn’t until the fourth century that the churches decided to make the birth of Jesus into a holiday. Since there is no official confirmation of the actual date of Jesus’ birth, Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the official date to be celebrated. It has been said that the reason December 25th was chosen was to incorporate the celebration with the winter solstice festivities in the hopes that it would be better received.
By the middle ages, the holiday was celebrated with church services, drunken celebrations, and festivities that resembled something similar to a Mardi-Gras atmosphere. Beggars and the less fortunate would be fed the finest food and drink and be catered to and entertained by the upper class as the more wealthy paid their “debt” to society.
By the 17th century, immigrants had attempted to bring the holiday to America, but it was not well received by the Puritans, and Christmas was actually outlawed in some areas. During this period, anyone who was caught celebrating the holiday could be fined. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday in the US until June 26, 1870.
In the 19th Century, Americans not only began to embrace the holiday, but they re-invented it as a warm, family centered holiday that brought people together in a celebration of peace and sharing. A variety of cultures contributed to the many Christmas customs that we know today, including the display of beautifully decorated trees, sending holiday cards, and giving gifts to loved ones and the less fortunate.
What are some of your family’s traditions that may have evolved from the original Christmas celebrations? Do you believe that the holiday is still observed as a religious celebration of the birth of Jesus? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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