History of Christmas
Alexa Nielson - Copy Desk Chief
Christmas both a sacred, religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. People around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are sacred and secular. For Christians, Christmas day is the day in which they celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
The name Christmas comes from the Mass of Christ. A mass service is when Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. The “Christ-Mass” service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset, so people celebrated at midnight. Therefore, Christ-Mass was shortened to Christmas. Christmas is celebrated around the world by most, whether they’re Christian or not, as it’s a time to get together with family and remember the good things they have.
The first recorded Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. He was the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years after that, Pope Julius officially declared that Jesus’ birth would be celebrated on December 25. More popular customs are the exchanging of gifts, decorating Christmas trees, going to church, sharing meals with family and friends, and the building anticipation of Santa’s arrival. In the United States, Christmas has been recognised as a federal holiday since 1870.
The middle of Winter has always been a celebration around, before the arrival of Jesus. Early Europeans would celebrate the lightest and darkest days on the calendar. The winter celebration was when people rejoiced that the worst of winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and more time to work.
December was the perfect time of year for Europeans to celebrate in most areas of Europe because the cattle would be slaughtered in the winter and they wouldn’t have to worry about feeding them. For most, this was the only time of year they had a fresh supply of meat.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21st through January. To recognise the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs to set on the fire. People would feast until the fire would burn out, sometimes this took up to 12 days! They believed that each spark from the fire symbolised a new calf or pig being born in the new year.
In Germany, people honoured the Pagan god Oden in their mid-winter holiday. They believed he took nocturnal flights in the sky to observe his people and decided who would perish or who prosper. This terrified the Germans. At this time of year, many chose to stay inside.
As you can see the history of Christmas is very interesting and involves a lot more than just the birth of Christ.