The tradition of celebrating Christmas on 25th December every year dates back to 354 A.D in Rome and spread to the Far East in the 4th century, propagated by John Chrysostom. Until then, the Eastern Christianity celebrated the birth anniversary of Christ on 6th January. Many of the traditions related to Christmas had also its origin in pre-Christian holidays celebrated in winter season by pagan followers who later converted to Christian faith. Pagan customs of Yule log from Yule and presents from Saturnalia became part of Christmas celebration. Christmas holiday that is celebrated today has been evolved over the years from Middle Ages when people observed the holiday with much boisterous way to a more calmer family affair themed on children in the late nineteenth century. There had been times when Christmas holiday was prohibited by a sect of Protestants to criticize for its being overly pagan and therefore non-biblical.
Roots & Origin
The history of Christmas goes back to as far as 354 A.D. Check out for information on Christmas history in the following article.
- In pre-Christian era, winter festival was commonly observed in many traditions. For example Yule was celebrated by Pagans of Scandinavian in late December month.
- The first known records of Christmas can be traced to 354 A.D in Rome. Later on, it was celebrated in Constantinople in 379 and in Antioch in 380 A.D. In the beginning of middle ages, it had been briefly eclipsed by Epiphany. But the nativity celebration became popular after Charlemagne was enthroned on Christmas Day in 800 A.D. Christmas carols and Yule boar became part of nativity festival. It gradually came to be observed as a public festival with exchange of gifts, feastings, sports and inclusion of ivy and holly.
- In the 17th century, Christmas holiday included dance performances, plays and elaborate dinners. It was during this period that Protestants changed the date of giving gifts from 6 December to Christmas Eve.
- In the 19th century, the Protestant Reformation led to the prohibition of Christmas celebration by Puritans who criticized it as contraption of Catholics. On the other hand, the Catholic Church rigorously observed the festival with much pomp. It received support from King Charles I of England who had asked gentry and officials to depart to their landed estate during midwinter to celebrate Christmas.
- In the United States, puritans of New England supported the views of Protestant and Christmas was banned in Boston from the year 1659 to 1681. Later, the ban was lifted by English governor Sir Edmund Andros in 1681. Notwithstanding, the Christmas celebration did remain unnoticed until about mid nineteenth century in Boston. The Christian community residing in New York and Virginia region continued to observe the festival without any inhibition. German immigrants in Pennyslyvania and the Wachovia Settlements in North Carolina were amongst few that celebrated Christmas with zeal and enthusiasm. Nativity festival faded in the aftermath of American Revolution in the US referring it as an English custom. George Washington condemned German mercenaries on December 26, 1776 during the Battle of Trenton.
- The Christmas tree was first introduced in Britain in the beginning of 19th century. In 1832, Queen Victoria expressed in writing – the joy of having a Christmas tree adorned with ornaments and lights. The tradition of having Christmas tree became more popular after Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert in 1841.
- The incorporation of Santa Claus in nativity festival began with the legend of St. Nicholas. According to the legend, there lived a Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna- a present day Turkey in the 4th century A.D. He was a rich, kind and generous man and loved children very much. In the region where he lived, he was known for being generous- tossing presents and gifts to the dwellings of needy and poor children to lift their spirit during the festival. Afterwards, he was entitled Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children and ware farers. This legendary story had grown to take the image of Santa Claus – who is widely believed to be the jolly man bringing gifts to children all over the world on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus was known as Father Christmas in England and Dun Che Lao Ren or “Christmas Old Man” in China.
- By 1820’s, nativity festival had seen revival in the US. The Christmas holiday found mention in various short stories by Washington Irving. His stories illustrated his own experience of warm-hearted English Christmas festivities staying at Aston Hall in Birmingham, England. Clement Clarke Moore composed the poem – “A Visit From St. Nicholas” in 1822. His poem led to the popularity of nativity festival with presenting gifts and Christmas shopping.
- Christmas was pronounced as a national holiday in the United States in 1870.