• Joseph Hiraoka

The History of Christmas

Christmas is a Christian holiday, but it is also a federal holiday. The original meaning of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but now it’s more for sharing and getting gifts. The original meaning is there, just not as prevalent. Here’s some parts of history for the beginning of Christmas, and why it was selected at the time.

Prehistory

For decades before Jesus was born, people would celebrate the middle/end of the winter. The reason for this is because wine and beer would finally be finished fermenting, and it was usually that part of the year to start slaughtering the cattle so they wouldn’t need to be fed. The Norse would celebrate Yule on December 21, and it would be for the return of the sun.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, where it would start in the week before the winter solstice. Also at that same time, they would celebrate Juvenalia, which was a holiday that honored children and would eat a large feast. Saturnalia was a fun holiday, mainly because the entire Roman hierarchy was flipped on its head. The peasants were in control, and the upper-class were now at the peasants’ level. Saturnalia lasted for an entire month, and schools would close for the children to have fun.

The Birth of Christmas

Here the Christians come in. For a while, the main holiday was Easter, not Christmas. Then, in the 4th century, Church officials decided to make a holiday for Jesus’s birth. Pope Julius I, I believe, made the date December 25 because they wanted to make the time similar to Saturnalia. Remember, the Cathloc Church is in the Vatican, which is in the Italian peninsula (where the Romans were). Jesus was most likely not born in winter because a shepherd shouldn’t be herding sheep in the middle of winter.

They named it the Feast of Nativity, and it spread to Egypt in 432 and in England in the sixth to seventh century. It also spread to Scandinavia in the eighth century, which meant that basically all of Europe had at least a couple of Feast of Nativity-s.

Obviously, everybody loved the idea. Popes and people in the Church were praised for the idea. By the Middle Ages, people started to celebrate Christmas much like Mardi Gras, as in, there would be lots of parades and drunkenness. After all, why not celebrate the birth of Jesus with a nice drink and partying? Also, a poor drunkard or a student were picked to be crowned “Lord of Misrule” and would gather a mob. The mob would then go around to the rich’s houses and ask for their best food and drink. Much like Halloween, they would vandalize the rich if they didn’t get anything.

So, let’s talk about Oliver Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell is a bit difficult and too long to type about, so let me just simplify it. England was a big fan of the Church (until it wasn’t) and celebrated lots of Cathloc holidays. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan. He started the English Civil War in 1642 and would later conquer all of England (for a time). The Church was so fed up with him that they vowed to cancel Christmas, and they did. It was also actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Boston, until it wasn’t.

Then, Oliver Cromwell died from Malaria. The restoration of King Charles II let him end the ban, so he did. However, the Americans had already started the Revolutionary War, and they didn’t favor English customs. They didn’t make Christmas a national holiday until June 26, 1820.

Americans were actually the people to make Christmas a time of peace and gifts instead of riots and chaos. Then, Washington Irving wrote a book named The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Canyon, gent. which expressed his ideas that Christmas should become more like how Saturnalia was: peaceful and fun. The book became a best-seller and started to become a reality. Historians say that Irving invented the tradition from him implying that it described the true customs of season.

Now, this is the time that change actually happened. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and it shows the importance of kindness and charity. This is also the time that families started to become less harsh on children, and realized that you can give gifts to your children. Americans realized all of this and started to use some other cultures’ traditions to use for their own (just like almost everything else). They started to use Christmas trees and cards to celebrate along with gifts from the English. Americans had basically reinvented Christmas for everybody.

Christmas is now a pretty cool holiday, both physically and metaphorically. Christmas is also now a time for celebration and gift-giving thanks to us Americans. Merry Christmas (or happy holidays if you aren’t Christian)!

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