The History of Christmas
By Tristan Davis
As snow falls and the semester winds down, the holidays quickly approach; specifically Christmas, the jolliest time of the year. This long-celebrated holiday is noted as the time Santa comes to town and for the celebration of the birth of Christ, but this is not how it has always been. To go back to the start of this celebration, we must go back in time to before the nineteenth century.
The earliest holiday that can be linked to Christmas comes from the Norse people. This holiday was called Yule and would be celebrated from December 21 through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would gather logs and build a great fire, and people would gather and feast around the fire. This feast would last until the fire burned out which could take as many as twelve days. The Norse believed that each spark of this great fire represented a calf or pig that would be born that year. Another part of this belief was that Odin would make fly through the night sky and decide who prospered or perished that year. This varies greatly from the Roman holiday Saturnalia.
In Rome, the winters were not as frigid as those in the north were. During this time, the Romans would celebrate Saturnalia, which was a holiday to worship the god of agriculture, Saturn. This holiday started a week before the winter solstice and continue for a full month. During this time, Roman society was turned upside down, slaves became masters, peasants commanded the city, and businesses and schools were closed down so everyone could enjoy these activities.
Also celebrated was the holiday Juvenilia, a holiday that honored the children of Rome. In addition, it was believed that the infant god of the sun was born on December 25. This shows us a connection between the Christmas we know and Juvenilia, for just as it is said that the god of the sun was born on 25 December, so was Jesus. However, the birthday of Jesus was never mentioned in the bible, and it is more likely that it happened in the springtime since the shepherds were out. It is believed that the pope chose this day to replace the day of Saturnalia.
The first day of Christmas that we know was actually called the Feast of the Nativity and was not called Christmas until the sixth century. This celebration of the birth of Christ was not always as welcomed as it is now. In the seventeenth century, the Puritans with their leader Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas. This belief followed them across the sea to the New World, where Boston residents were if they showed Christmas spirit. After the American Revolution, many English traditions would fall out of favor, and this included Christmas.
It was not until the nineteenth century that Christmas made a comeback. However, this was not a peaceful time; there would often be riots on Christmas day, which lead to the upper class changing the way Christmas was celebrated. This is where the writer Washington Irving comes in and reinvents Christmas. Irving believed that Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday that brought people together across social and economic status. He wrote a book that showed a squire inviting peasants into his house to celebrate Christmas. Irving is actually credited with the traditions we see now, most notably St. Nick, as many of these traditions do not show up in earlier cultures. Over the next 100 years, Americans would add customs and create their own unique Christmas celebration.
Christmas has evolved over time and developed into the holiday that it is today. While Christmas is a time of celebration and presents, it is mainly about celebrating good times with friends and family. So, join your family and friends in celebrating this joyous holiday, and have a Merry Christmas.