Today, Christmas is one of the most popular holidays of the year. Although it is meant to remember the birth of Christ, it has gained a commercial essence. Children anticipate receiving many gifts, and adults decorate their homes with expensive decorations. Luckily, it is also a time to gather together with family and friends. However, most people do not know the true origins of the holiday.
Pagan and Roman Culture
In Roman culture, there were two holidays that were celebrated in December. First, Saturnalia was a feast that honored the god of agriculture. Food and drink were abundant, and businesses and schools closed. Also, Romans celebrated Juvenalia. This was a celebration that honored the children of the area and occurred around the winter solstice. Also, upper-class society celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the sun. To some people, this was the most sacred day of the entire year.
With time, the Christian faith spread throughout Europe. The clergy was unable to stop pagan celebrations. Therefore, they adapted the most popular customs into a birthday celebration for the Lord. Today, we celebrate Christmas on December 25.
Birth of the Christmas Tree
During the solstice celebrations, pagan society decorated homes with greenery. This was done with enthusiasm and anticipation for spring. Since fir trees remain green all year, they were believed to hold sacred powers. They were cut and decorated to celebrate Saturnalia. To add ornamentation, they were adorned with tiny bits of metal. Also, there are records of Greek culture honoring gods by decorating trees. An unknown fact is that the first trees used in pagan households were hung upside down. In the 1500s, Germans adopted the tradition of decorating trees. They advanced the process by using candles and dried fruit.
Who Invented the Idea of Santa Claus?
The image of Santa Claus was modeled after Saint Nicholas. Nicolas was a bishop in the early church and was imprisoned for his faith. He came from a rich family but was known for his generosity toward the poor. Legend tells that Nicholas saved three daughters from being sold into slavery. To enhance the low dowry of the family, Nicholas tossed gold into their home’s open windows. It was believed that the gold landed in socks that were drying on the family’s fireplace. Other children began hanging stockings in hopes of receiving similar bounties.
As time progressed, other European cultures came up with their own version of this man. Kris Kringle was created in Germany and Switzerland. It was believed that he joined Saint Nicholas to bring presents to good boys and girls. In fact, Sweden’s children enjoyed a jolly elf named Jultomten. This creature boarded a sleigh drawn by goats and delivered gifts. England had Father Christmas, and France had Pere Noel. Eventually, America developed Santa Claus.
One of the biggest traditions in this country is sending Santa letters. Although there is not a ton of information about how this began, one reference involves a small girl in the 1200s who wrote a letter to the real Saint Nicholas. By the 1800s, numerous children began sending out notes that explained about their good behavior throughout the year and that listed items that they wanted to receive.
America Adopts Christmas
Americans began to embrace Christmas in the 1800s. Drunken carnivals were replaced by family-centered celebrations. Washington Irving wrote stories about Christmas traditions that tugged at the heartstrings of the public. Pictures and depictions of Santa Claus and elves were commonplace. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in hopes of uniting the country after the conclusion of the Civil War.
American Christmas Traditions
Today, Christmas has evolved. There are numerous traditions that occur in homes across America. For example, most families enjoy a meal of turkey and cranberry sauce. It is common to attend church services, including midnight mass. Of course, Christmas trees fill homes along with gingerbread houses and nativity scenes. Outside, many individuals go wild embellishing their homes with lights and other festive decorations. At almost every home, families wake up Christmas morning and open gifts.
Leading to the holidays, droves of people attend shows, especially at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The Nutcracker ballet is popular as well. Television is filled with Christmas cartoons. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is one of these programs that has aired for decades. People wear ugly sweaters and attend festive office parties as well. Also, families send Christmas cards to friends and loved ones as a means to spread holiday cheer. Many friends host cookie swaps as well. Also, fruit cake and candy canes are enjoyed. Into the future, families are sure to keep building on these traditions. This will make the holiday even more about faith, love, and togetherness.