Christmas has always been seen as an internationally recognized holiday due to the sheer amount of people who celebrate it all around the world. There are an estimated 2 billion Christians in the world who celebrate this holiday and thus it comes as no surprise that the celebration is somehow seen to be prominent in almost every country worldwide. Christmas has gone through many phases and has definitely evolved over time with the help of multiple oddball traditions from different parts of the world.
This holiday was not manifested as a whole neatly, instead it is a combination of tales that met the boiling pot which is known to be the United States. Only in the states did Christmas become the thing we know so well today. Initially this holiday had multiple iterations and the premise behind this holiday has definitely developed far beyond the point of even recognizing its origins.
Why the 25th of December?
Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and thus Christmas in old English was known as Cristes mæsse which translates to Christ’s Mass. However, the stories in the New Testament never tell stories of the exact date Jesus was born. Even both Matthew and Luke merely agree on the birth place, parents and relative era in history in which Jesus was born which is under the reign of Herod the Great.
However, the calendrical evidence to back the fact that Jesus was in fact born on the 25th of December is unknown. The Pagan origins theory behind the 25th Christmas is based on an already popular celebration that was popular amongst the Romans and that was The Saturnalia. This festival is mentioned numerous times in ancient text however the true origins behind it remains quite murky to this day. This festival was celebrated between the 17th-23rd of December in honor of the God Saturn.
Saturnalia was known for the large banquet feasts and greenery that were hung up during this celebration. Plutarch stated that the feasting aspect of this festival may in fact go on for several days as people dress up in colored togas rather than traditional ones. December 25th at the time was a feasting day to celebrate the birth of Sol Invictus who was the Sun God and this was made a fact when announced by Emperor Aurelian during 274 CE. As Christianity became more popular by the 4th century A.D. Western Christian churches settled on celebrating Christmas on December 25th to allow for all these festivities to continue on in the name of the birth of Jesus Christ.
During the Summer Solstice, the Egyptians worshipped the Sun God Ra and during this time they would bring green palm branches as a symbol of triumph of life over death as well as the triumph of Ra overcoming the winter. Centuries later, greenery was used for religious celebrations such as Saturnalia that celebrated Saturn (God of agriculture/ Greek Titan Cronus). The branches of evergreen trees were used to decorate homes and in Europe the Celtics decorated the churches with the same plant as it was seen as a symbol of eternal life.
Clearly the use of green plants has been documented over the years as a symbol of celebration and life so common uses of garlands and wreaths that we see today as decorations are very much to be expected. Since the evergreen plant become so symbolic the Christmas tree was soon born but even then, there is no true reason as to how did the idea emerge. Initially, those who were too poor to afford plants in their home would make a wooden pyramid and decorate it with apples, candles and paper.
This is how the idea of decorating trees came about and the use of apples was later replaced with what we know today as Christmas baubles. The use of candles on a real tree was first documented in Germany as it was said to represent the night star but later it is replaced with the fairy lights we use in the modern world.
Another festive Christmas tradition is kissing under the mistletoe, and the reason behind this is a cross between biology and mythology. In ancient Rome mistletoe is seen as plant dropped down from heaven by God which explains the positioning of this plant amongst the high branches of trees. It was also said to have powers of healing and inclined fertility. In the mythological tales of Scandinavian legends, the plant was resurrected from being a symbol of death to being the symbol of peace and love. The plant was also used to mandate a one day truce for all fights and embraced the idea of love under those branches.
By the 18th century people in Britain had adopted this custom into a Christmas tradition. Mistletoe is parasitic in nature and relies on its growth by obtaining nutrients from other plants. The sticky nature of the seeds cause it to be indigestible and later spread to other trees by excretion form animals such as birds. In some cases the mistletoe plant may thrive and grow while the parent plant dies causing it to be even more of a mysterious plant that captivated our attention. Mistletoe caters towards the diversity of wildlife providing many species a source of food and in a way bringing animals together much like the symbolism the plant holds when it comes to the Christmas tradition.
When the idea of Christmas cookies is brought up, the famous gingerbread immediately comes to mind so there has to be a reason as to why this cookie is so iconic during the holiday season. Gingerbread as a delicacy ranges from cookies to cakes and the mixture comprises of ginger, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon sweetened with honey. The ancient romans and Greeks would serve this in the form of a small cake whereas the Canadians chose to decorate the ginger bread cookies which is a tradition that still stands to this day. During the middle ages Europeans were crazy for both highly spiced food and cookies so it only made sense that the gingerbread cookie would later blow up.
When it comes to candy the one that sticks out the most is the famous candy cane. A candy that has almost become synonymous with Christmas due to the swirly red stripes and peppermint taste. Candy cane was originally made as a stick but it later adopted the hook at the end, however the reason why remains unknown. Some stories state the reason behind it was to allow it to be hung on trees while others argue it was to resemble the cane of a shepherd and was given to kids when the nativity story was reenacted in church. Regardless of the unknown truth, this candy will forever be remembered as a Christmas icon.
Eggnog was the drink that everyone had at Christmas but even then the popularity of this drink is slowly reducing as more people find the taste to be too strong or in some cases find the idea of drinking raw eggs quite outlandish. The recipe for it has changed over time as the original one was in fact deemed too strong for the current generation and the notion of buying and selling a drink that contains raw eggs is a bit of a health concern. However this alcoholic beverage has stood the test of time in most cases and this can’t be said for all delicacies.
The Christmas pudding faced a tremendous shift when it came to the recipe books. People were constantly reinventing this pudding over the years as it originally started out as a savory pudding then later becoming a dessert. Pre war times, the pudding was made of minced meat and wasn’t even in a solid form as the use of eggs were extremely rare at the time so the delicacy would be semi solid much like porridge. Later as more people got hold of these ingredient the pudding took shape and mixed fruit and nuts were used. Even then people who could not afford sugar would use carrots/potatoes as a natural sweeteners so in many cases it was all up to creativity.
Christmas songs are what set the mood when it comes to the holiday season and everyone loves a good song to magnify the holiday spirit. Singing has always been a big part of Christmas and this is showcased from the caroling that is done every year with friends and family. Mainstream Christmas songs have definitely evolved over the years and it may be surprising to some but Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé weren’t always known for this genre. Songs went from being homely to being commercialized pretty quickly but even then, the classics have always been the go to during the holidays so songs like Silent Night (1833) and O Holy Night (1847) will forever be immortalized.
Later on as pop music become a huge part of the culture, more artists released their own Christmas songs which ended up blowing up like ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’ (1994) by Mariah Carey and ‘Santa Tell Me’ by Ariana Grande. There are many more artists that played an important role when it comes to the contribution in the Christmas genre. These songs are what define a modern day Christmas and in years to come they be noted down as the classics. In the 80’s Wham! released Last Christmas and that would well enough define that period in history so it’s safe to say that there have been notable songs for each generation, slowly expanding the library.
The Origins Of Santa Claus
Santa Claus is an integral part of Christmas as he is the gift bearing jolly old man that everyone loves. The history behind Santa Claus is rooted to the man known as St Nicholas. Nicholas of Bari was born in the 4th century in the town of Myra which is modern day Turkey. He was raised by his uncle who was the Bishop of Myra as his parents had passed due to an epidemic. Nicholas having grown up as an orphan made him extremely kind towards other kids as he would make handmade toys with them to play with.
He grew up wealthy yet he had a place in his heart for those who were less fortunate and this would be his defining character in the coming years. Nicholas in an old tale had helped an elderly man by throwing gold into the stockings that were hanging in order outside to help out without ruining the pride of the poor man. He wanted to anonymously be of service without having to belittle anyone in the process. Nicholas continues to give those in need by leaving anonymous gifts for everyone but he was no longer anonymous at one point as people started to find out. He was noted as a kind hearted man who didn’t need much to be happy.
The magic of generosity allowed St Nicholas to live on beyond his time for generations to come. In the Netherlands kids would leave their shoes out on St Nicholas day to receive sweets and toys to commemorate the gift giver himself and traditions would continue to spread worldwide. In America, Washington Irving would write in his book Knickerbocker’s History of Christmas about the discovery of St Nicholas riding over the trees in a wagon and this folklore would be the start of a new age for Santa Claus. More writers would add on to this folktale and in 1823, Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem called ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’ and this would revolutionize the holiday.
In 1821 there would be an illustration of Santa riding a sleigh and this would stick to be the poster image for Santa. Later in 1889 Mrs. Claus was introduced causing an expansion in the family tree and more info would be gained regarding the location for all the toy making which would be the North Pole. Later came the elves and of course new additions to the reindeer family including Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Then came more advertisements with Santa Claus being the main attraction and this was demonstrated early on by companies like Coca Cola and Macys.
The modern day Santa definitely holds differences from the origin story but the premise behind him remains the same. The theme of generosity and gift giving still remains to this day and that is what truly matter. Santa may have received an economical rebrand but this tradition will always remain when it comes to Christmas. A glass of milk and some cookies is all it takes to get a brand new toy so long as you haven’t been naughty. This was significant leverage to prevent kids from misbehaving and Santa managed to retain many family values and human connections through the tradition of giving and receiving.
Mixture of Everything
Overall Christmas traditions were picked up from all around the world and none of them were textbook, instead they just sprouted out of pure spontaneity which makes them even better. Christmas has definitely evolved as a whole from various aspects and it will continue to evolve as societal cultures change over the years but the beauty of Christmas is that the past traditions are also never forgotten. New traditions will be added but the previous ones still stand strong with minor alterations. This mixture of everything is what makes this holiday so unique for every individual.
Christmas is not only portrayed as a magical time in books but is also celebrated in the most magical way as well. People all over the world celebrate it regardless of race and religion so it has definitely become a universally recognized holiday. A holiday so rich in history and culture caters for everyone in a special way. Regardless of the fact that it has become a highly monetizable holiday, the origins were not built on that basis. Anyone can celebrate it to any capacity without it being flashy or extravagant as some may prefer a cozier approach. However it is celebrated, the idea of loved ones will always shine though during this holiday season.
The history of Christmas is a long and complicated one with multiple approaches which can be taken. It is somewhat built on speculation and mythology but this just adds to the mysterious and magical nature of Christmas. This holiday has seeped into pretty much every single industry somehow managing to make it more festive during the December month. The atmosphere is completely transformed during this time of year and it is the perfect way to reminisce over the memories made before the New Year. Regardless of the struggles during the year, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel.
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