Exchanging gifts, decorating trees, attending church and waiting for Santa Claus are all ways to celebrate Christmas, but where did all of these traditions start? For the answer to that question, one must start at the beginning.
In the past, centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, a holiday was celebrated, but it wasn’t called Christmas yet.
In Scandinavia, individuals celebrated Yule, which started Dec. 21 and ended in January. Fathers and sons would bring home giant logs and set them on fire, while celebrating until they burned out.
Each spark represented a new pig or calf that would be born the following year.
According to History.com, the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated until the Fourth Century.
Pope Julius I chose Dec. 25 to represent the birth of Christ. It’s said that he chose this day to absorb the traditions of the Pagan Saturnalia Festival, which celebrated Saturn, the god of Agriculture.
By the middle ages, Pagan holidays had fallen by the wayside, and Christmas was in full swing.
Believers would attend church and celebrate afterwards. Christmas was a day for the rich to entertain the less fortunate and clear their consciences.
In the 19th century, Americans reinvented Christmas to be more centered on a family day of peace and nostalgia.
Santa Claus also appeared about the fourth century. It began with St. Nicholas, who was devoted to helping children. His reputation led to the belief that he could perform miracles.
In Russia, he became citizens’ patron saint, where he was known as having a flowing white beard and a red cape.
In Europe, the tradition of St. Nicholas slowly dwindled, but it was alive and well in the Netherlands.
Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by their fireplace and Sinterklaas (from the Dutch spelling of Sint Nikollas) would reward the good children with gifts placed in their shoes.
In the 17th century, Dutch colonists travelled to America where the tradition was quickly picked up, and the name Santa Claus emerged.
Germans decorated fir trees with apples, roses and candies. The Christmas tree was then brought to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.
By the late 19th century, America had gotten a hold of the Christmas tree tradition after the Germans brought it over.
Christmas now consists of spending time with family, eating good food, exchanging gifts and waiting for Santa Claus.
American traditions, although coming from multiple places, have become a legacy.
Standing under the mistletoe to get a kiss from a significant other, singing carols, burning a yule log and reading “Twas the night before Christmas,” seem like they will soon fall by the wayside.
In the future, Americans can hope to retain these traditions, but commercialism is quickly taking over.
Instead of waiting for Santa, parents are told to just give their children a gift card.
Instead of Christmas being a day of celebration with families, America can probably see this holiday turning into one that only consists of what the next material possession a person can have.
Ten years from now, hopefully, people will get back to appreciating one another instead of Christmas only being about gifts and electronics.
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