From mistletoe to Christmas trees, to holly wreaths and Santa Claus – just where did Christmas come from? Was it the Bible or paganism? Why do we exchange gifts and what are the origins of Christmas traditions? Here, we aim to answer some of those questions.
Christmas to this day is celebrated as both a sacred and religious holiday. It’s also a worldwide cultural and commercial spectacle.
For an impressive two millennia, people around the globe have been observing the 25th December with traditions that are both religious and profane in nature. Popular levies include swapping gifts, garnishing Christmas trees, going to church, and sharing feasts with family and friends.
Christmas, asides from being the season to be jolly, is when confessing Christians focus on Jesus Christ, which is one of the reasons it is named “Christ-mass”!
It wasn’t until the 19th century that we began to embrace Christmas as a commercial holiday. It was at this time that it was re-invented, becoming a family-focused day of peace and nostalgia. It was also around this time that the famous English author Charles Dickens created the celebrated story, A Christmas Carol.
The book’s message showcased the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind.
Why do people think that Christmas is delightful?
When it comes to celebrating Christmas today, the majority of us don’t even think to reflect on why we celebrate this season.
In fact, we exist in a world brimming with customs, with few seeking to understand their origin.
The roots of Christmas
There are many stories about the origins of Christmas, including the Pagan Origin.
In 1990, a school board in Ohio (a suburb in Cleveland) banned all Christmas scenes and nativities from taking part on school property, as they believed them to disobey the separation of church and state. They were taken to court by the parents of the children, who were outraged – stating that the school had stolen Christmas from their families and the community.
The board lost the case! Christmas was announced as a worldwide tradition, which was part of religion.
It was regarded to be worldly, and still to this date, exists in almost all cultures.
Nearly all facets of Christmas boast Roman roots, with the earliest indication to Christmas marked on 25 December, which is said to be the second century after Jesus’ birth.
Many believe the first Christmas celebrations were held in response to the Roman Saturnalia, a harvest festival, which marked the winter solstice – the return of the sun. This was held to honour Saturn, the god of sowing.
By 529 A.D. after Christianity had become the certified state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian announced the 25th December (Christmas) a public holiday. This festivity reached its peak in the medieval period, when it was used as an excuse to consume copious amounts of food and drink – a little similar to the festivities held today!
The first evidence of Christmas
The first evidence of Christmas is shown in the 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopaedia.
The feast associated with this celebration came from Egypt and was established in memory of Christ’s birth. It was an impressive 300 years later that the Roman church decided to announce Christmas as a regular festivity. In the fifth century, it was delegated throughout the empire as a certified festival honouring Christ.
One of the main reasons we gift each other presents come Christmas time is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the three wise men, which consisted of Myrrh, Frankincense and Gold. Today, family and friends gift each other all over the world.
The majority of Christmas traditions are centred on children, who believe in a Christmas gift bringer: Santa Claus, Father Christmas or St Nicholas.
The origins of this saint come from Turkey. St. Nicholas was said to be a bishop who resided in Myra in the fourth century. Due to the unfortunate passing of his parents when he was very young, he was left a great deal of money. This turned him into a very generous man, and instead of keeping this money for himself, he helped the poor and gifted those who needed gifting. This is however just one of the many legends of Santa Claus.
One of the more famous stories revolves around an extremely poor man, who had three daughters. He was unable to save enough money for dowry, which meant his daughters couldn’t get married.
St. Nicholas, having heard of this man’s predicament, dropped a sum of money down the chimney, which landed in a stocking hanging by the fire to dry. This is said to be the reason for our obsession with Christmas stockings to this day.