For those of you wondering ‘what is the origin of Christmas?’ we have put together a few quick pointers to share all about where one of the most celebrated festivals of the year comes from.
At this time of year, people all over the world are buying gifts, cooking amazing food, throwing beautiful parties, spreading kindness, and of course, remembering the story of Christianity.
But have you ever wondered about where the Christmas celebration began? Why do we celebrate Christmas the way we do? What is the history of Christmas?
Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon.
For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.
Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion.
Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25—Christmas Day—has been a federalholiday in the United States since 1870.
Also in December, in which the darkest day of the year falls, the pagan cultures lit bonfires and candles to keep the darkness at bay. The Romans also incorporated this tradition into their own celebrations.
As Christianity spread across Europe, the Christian clergy were not able to curb the pagan customs and celebrations. Since no one knew Jesus’s date of birth, they adapted the pagan ritual into a celebration of His birthday.
Inspired by St. Nicholas, this Christmas tradition has Christian roots, rather than pagan ones. Born in southern Turkey around 280, he was a bishop in the early Christian church and suffered persecution and imprisonment for his faith. Coming from a wealthy family, he was renowned for his generosity towards the poor and disenfranchised.
The legends surrounding him abound, but the most famous is how he saved three daughters from being sold into slavery. There was no dowry to entice a man to marry them, so it was their father’s last resort. St. Nicholas is said to have tossed gold through an open window into the home, thus saving them from their fate. Legend has it that the gold landed in a sock drying by the fire, so children started hanging stockings by their fires in hopes St. Nicholas would toss gifts into them.
In honor of his passing, December 6th was declared St. Nicholas day. As time went on, each European culture adapted versions of St. Nicholas. In Swiss and German cultures, Christkind or Kris Kringle (Christ child) accompanied St. Nicholas to deliver presents to well-behaved children. Jultomten was a happy elf delivering gifts via a sleigh drawn by goats in Sweden.
Then there was Father Christmas in England and Pere Noel in France. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lorraine, France, and parts of Germany, he was known as Sinter Klaas. (Klaas, for the record, is a shortened version of the name Nicholas). This is where the Americanized Santa Claus comes from.
It may seem as if commercials have taken over Christmas, but originally it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus more than 2000 years ago. The coming of Jesus has changed the world. We count the years BC and AD: Before Christ and Anno Domini: the year of the Lord.
Long before Jesus’s birth – about 700 BC – the prophet Isaiah already writes about the coming of Jesus as the Savior of the world. Isaiah 9:2; 9:6 says: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned […] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Jesus is not just a special person, He is God, who became man. In John 1:1 and John 1:14 we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God […] The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
You could say: Jesus is the most wonderful gift God has ever given to mankind. Romans 6:23 says it this way: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let us celebrate this wonderful gift. And don’t forget to accept this gift in your own life: ‘Jesus, thank you that you came to earth to set me free from sin and to restore the relationship with God, the Father.’
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 2, you can read the wonderful story of Christmas in much detail. That’s what we celebrate!
Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.
The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.
As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards and gift-giving.
Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.
After the civil war, the country was looking for ways to look past difference and become united as a country. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant declared it a federal holiday. And while Christmas traditions have adapted with time, I think Washington Irving’s desire for unity in celebration lives on. It’s become a time of year where we wish others well, donate to our favorite charities, and give presents with a joyful spirit.
So, where ever you may be, and whatever traditions you follow, we wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of holidays!
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