Christmas time. It is definitely the best time of the year. Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you disagree you’re definitely wrong. The spirit of Christmas is able to unite everyone whether they’re Christian, Atheist, Jewish, or anything else. The actual holiday of Christmas is Christian, but the joy of the season is infectious to all. But in order to really be able to enjoy Christmas, you must first know some basics.
The History and Evolution of Christmas- Christmas can be traced all the way back to the approximate date of December 25, 0 AD. On that day 2017 years ago, the savior of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ, was born. However, this date is very debatable. For one, there is question about whether or not Jesus was actually born in our year zero or rather a few years later. Second, there is nothing that historically records Jesus’s birth as December 25 until over 300 years after his birth. It seemed that day was picked due to all of the other celebrations going on around that time of the year. December 25 is approximately the time of the winter solstice, which coincides with several other cultures’ celebrations and holidays. For example, the Jewish celebrated the festival of lights or what is more commonly known as Hanukkah. Germany held the festival of Yule. In Rome, people tended to observe Saturnalia. It is likely that at some point in time, a Christian leader established December 25 as Christmas in an attempt to stop people from indulging in pagan holidays surrounding this time of year.
Over the course of approximately 2017 years, Christmas has evolved into a worldwide holiday with both religious and unreligious significance. For the first 300 years after Jesus’s birth, the church did not recognize His birthday as a holiday. Instead, they focused on His resurrection and only celebrated Easter. The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in the year 336 during the reign of the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine. It was done in either an effort to unify his empire of to make it easier to convert them to Christianity. During this time, there were two prominent pagan festivals; the first honored the god of agriculture, Saturn, while the second celebrated the birth of Mithras, the persian god of light. Constantine blended many traditions from both of these holidays with the story of Jesus’s birth (the Nativity story) and thus created Christmas.
The Origin of Mistletoe- Celtic legends connected the winter solstice with the Scandinavian sun god Balder who was struck down by a mistletoe arrow. It also stood as a symbol of love and friendship in Norse mythology. A combination of these two legends is usually what is said to have created the custom of kissing under a mistletoe around the holiday season.
Evergreen Wreaths- In the 16th century, Germans took boughs of evergreen and put them in a circle to symbolize God’s everlasting love with no beginning and no end.
Poinsettias- The tradition of poinsettias at Christmas time comes from an old Mexican legend. It is about a poor girl named Pepita who has nothing to give to baby Jesus at her Christmas eve church service. Her uncle tells her that anything, even the smallest of gifts, will suffice so long as she loves Jesus. Pepita gathers a small bundle of weeds and is prepared to offer that as her gift. When she comes to the altar and offers up her gift, the Holy Spirit changes her weeds into beautiful, vibrant red flowers. From that point on the crimson flowers were known as Flores de Noche Buena. In English this means Flower of the Holy Night.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and Stockings- You’ve probably heard of Saint Nicholas in reference to Santa Claus. But many years ago, St. Nicholas was actually a real person. St. Nicholas was a Bishop during the 4th century in the area we now regard as Turkey. He was a very rich man who always gave out money and helped those in need. St. Nicholas’s generosity was actually the reason for stockings. The story begins with a very poor man with three daughters. The man was too poor to afford a dowry for any of his daughters, so none of them could get married. St. Nicholas heard this man’s story and dropped a bag of gold down his chimney to pay for his first daughter’s dowry. When he dropped it down the chimney, there happened to be stockings hanging up to dry at the bottom. The bag of gold fell perfectly into one of the stockings. St. Nicholas repeated this for the second daughter. The man was rightfully curious as to who was generously giving all this gold to him, so he waited by the chimney at night in hopes of finding out who it was. Eventually, he caught St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas begged the man not to tell anyone of the incident as he didn’t want any attention, but the man told anyways. Eventually, St. Nicholas earned his Saint title due to his never ending acts of kindness.
Christmas Cards- The origin of Christmas cards can be traced to the UK in 1843. A man by the name of Sir Henry Cole had started the trend. Henry originally had the idea with his friend John Horsley. John was an artist so he was able to actually produce the cards and Henry worked out the logistics. Christmas cards quickly became a popular custom amongst the financially elite due to the high prices of postal services. However, in 1870, the price of sending a Christmas card dropped to only half a penny. This drop in price can be largely contributed to the building of new railways which lessened the cost of labor in shipping. By the early 1900’s, Christmas cards had spread from the UK to the rest of Europe. They became especially prominent in Germany. The earliest cards tended to have the Nativity scene on them or some sort of snowy landscape. Nowadays, Christmas cards can have just about anything on them. It’s common to see anything from a Santa Claus to some sort of winter pun. But, by far the most popular is a family picture.
The Origin of Christmas Trees- Christmas trees originated in Germany, but it is not certain when. The most widely believed story is that of 8th century English missionary St. Boniface. St. Boniface was supposed to have held up evergreen as a symbol of the everlasting Christ. Another belief is that a German theologian, Martin Luther, cut the down the first Christmas tree, took it home, and decorated it with candles to represent the stars. By the 16th century, Christmas trees were common in Germany. Later, when the German court went to England, they introduced Christmas trees to the English. That small exchange of customs spiraled into what we now know as arguably one of the best parts of Christmas--decorating Christmas trees.
All-in-all, Christmas takes its roots in Christianity, but it has become one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. There are so many traditions associated with this holiday and each and every one has some sort of interesting backstory or legend. Some people are straying away from the true meaning of the season and see Christmas as a time to receive gifts or get all wrapped up in the small details of it all. The spirit of Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a holiday that-- if celebrated the right way-- can bring together families and people all across the world.