The History Of Christmas Past

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Everyone has traditions around Christmas time—it’s a time to enjoy company and celebrate. You get together with family and friends, share presents, and decorate the house. Sometimes you even fill your front yard so full of inflatable reindeer and Santas that you can’t even see the ground. Many of these Christmas traditions have interesting origins that you might not have known about.


Jolly Old Saint Nicholas was a real guy, though he didn’t drive a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh. St. Nicholas lived around 280 A.D. and was known for kindness and generosity, and for helping the poor and the sick. One legend had him saving three daughters from being sold into servitude when their father couldn’t pay for their dowries by secretly entering their house at night and leaving money to cover the expense. As time went on, he became the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift-giving. His feast day was on December 6th, the day he was believed to have died. Dutch immigrants in New York called him Saint Nikolaas, or by his nickname Sinterklaas. Eventually, all these parts came together— St. Nicholas became Santa Claus, who secretly delivered presents to nice children, and coal to naughty ones on the night before Christmas.


December 25th

For people around the world, Christmas is a day to give gifts, celebrate our loved ones, and enjoy a season of cheer. Christians hold the day even more significantly, using it as a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and everything that entails. Regardless of religious beliefs however, most people would agree that the reason Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December is because a baby was born in a manger 2,017 years ago on that date. In reality, Jesus was more likely born in the spring, not the month more commonly associated with his birth. So why do we celebrate on the 25th?

For one thing, celebrations around this time had been occurring long before some shepherds saw a star in the sky. These were related to the winter solstice, such as Saturnalia, honoring Rome’s god of agriculture. The solstice was a sign that spring was coming and, with many cultures relying heavily on agriculture, the return of the sun was a reason to have a big party. Some of these celebrations still happen today, such as the Druids congregating at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise through its pillars. It’s likely that the Christian church moved the day to coincide with the celebrations to make it more appealing to those they were trying to convert. Super festive holiday celebrations weren’t really Christianity’s thing, so telling the people they could keep their annual winter party probably helped sell them on the conversion.  


Christmas Trees

You might be surprised to learn that Christmas trees haven’t always been as popular as they are now. They popped up here and there, but weren’t widely used. In fact, up through the mid-1800s, they were considered to be pagan symbols, remnants from the Roman feast of Saturnalia and other solstice celebrations. What was popular in Britain in the 1800s however, became popular everywhere, so when Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were reportedly putting one up for their family, Christmas trees were suddenly “in.” Ever since, Americans have been putting up trees in their homes, and it now stands as one of the staples of Christmas.