Holiday Information: The History Of Christmas

In America History, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and includes Christmas trees, snowmen, and Santa Claus. A guide to traditions and beliefs.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ noted on December 25. Today, in America it is also considered a celebration of mid-winter, a tradition we inherit from our ancestors as they honored their winter solstice long ago. The story of the birth of Christ can be found in the Bible in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Most people don't realize that the church did not even honor any type of festivity for the event until the 4th century. The Romans celebrated the Festival of Saturnalia in December, honoring Saturn and their winter solstice.

The Christian Emperor, Constantine established Christmas in 340 AD and decided December 25 to be the most likely time for the birth of Christ. The Germanic tribes of Europe also held a celebration of feasting to honor mid-winter. In the 4th century, Nicholas, a bishop in Turkey came to be known as St. Nicholas for his kind deeds to the needy and enslaved.

Centuries later, the Puritans in England and in New England tried to do away with Christmas altogether but they had little success. In 1856 Christmas was made a legal holiday in Massachusetts. Up until that time, it was not likely that you would have a few days off from work at Christmas.

Santa Claus:

Who is Santa Claus? He's been described, as a mythological character that brings presents to good children on the night of Christmas Eve. America's Santa Claus came from the European traditions regarding St. Nicholas. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam brought the idea of Santa to American. The brave act that Santa performs by climbing down the chimney all comes from the Dutch. Their tradition even tells that if you're naughty, he'll leave a switch instead of toys.

His bright red suit trimmed with white fur originated from the cape of St. Nichols. During the 19th century Santa begin to be quite popular and made appearances in the stories of Washington Irving. In 1822 Clement Moore wrote "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" inspiring Thomas Nast to draw the famous cartoon of Santa published in Harper's Weekly. The English knew Santa as Father Christmas and the Germans knew him as Kris Kringle.

In 1809 Irving wrote a story which resulted in changing the traditional Dutch custom. On December 14, St. Nicholas Eve, the Dutch would leave shoes out for St. Nicholas but Irving's story had the children leave stockings hanging out instead. At that time children believed Santa traveled by wagon with the assistance of a magic white horse. But in 1821, Irving's book, "The Children's Friend" had Santa traveling by sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Decorations and customs:

When the ancient Romans celebrated their winter solstice in honor of the god Saturn, they exchanged decorative wreaths and garlands made from evergreens. The early English also made decorated wreaths but placed them inside their homes to keep away evil spirits.

The custom of decorating a tree comes from Germany. Prince Albert of Germany, the husband of Queen Victoria, set up a splendid tree in Windsor Castle. He had servants trim the tree with candies, sugared fruits and tiny wrapped gifts. This began the Victorians love of Christmas decorating.

The idea of gift giving goes all the way back to the Christ child when the Three Wise Men entered the stable and lay gifts before the precious child. Down through the ages mankind has enjoyed giving at Christmas time, whether it is a personal gift or spiritual.

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