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Christmas History, Traditions

How did Christmas evolve into the holiday we know today?

There have been celebrations in late December longer than human history has been recorded.

Over the centuries, harvest and winter festivals slowly became religious festivals and those led to the Christmas holiday that we know today.

According to history.com, these celebrations began thousands of years ago when early Europeans held festivals around the winter solstice. The events centered around the fact that daylight hours would start to increase after the solstice.

In Scandanavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from Dec. 21 to the end of January. Families would burn logs as part of the festivities.

In Germany, people honored Oden, a pagan god they were fearful of because they believed he flew around during the winter months, deciding who would prosper and who would perish during the coming year.

Early Europeans also slaughtered their cattle in late December, so they wouldn't have to feed them during the cold winter months. Feasts were organized around these slaughters.

Romans held a festival called Saturnia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It was a monthlong harvest-related festival in which food and drink were plentiful.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday as Christians remembered Jesus' death and resurrection.

Pope Julius I was the one who declared Dec. 25 as Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus' birth. He did so in 350.

There's some evidence Jesus was born in the spring, but it's also widely believed Dec. 25 was chosen to coincide with the pagan winter festivals so Christians could absorb and adopt many already existing traditions.

The holiday spread to Egypt in 432 and by 600 it was celebrated throughout much of Europe.

In the Middle Ages, Christmas developed into a rowdy celebration in Europe much like today's Mardi Gras. 

In North America, the pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas as they found it too decadent. The holiday was actually banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

After the American revolution and the formation of United States, many European customs were dropped. Those included Christmas throughout much of the new nation.

Christmas didn't revive in the United States until the 1800s. Author Washington Irving is given much of the credit for a book he wrote in 1819. "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon" told of Christmas celebrations in an English manor house.

A few years later, Charles Dickins' book "A Christmas Carol" was published and was widely read in the United States.

Christmas was declared a national holiday on June 26, 1870.

Americans reinvented the holiday from a raucous European celebration to a more family-oriented, peace-seeking event. They are also unearthed past traditions and molded them into the modern day customs we follow.

The Christmas Tree tradition is also thousands of years old. In ancient times, trees that remained green all year held special meaning for people in winter. People hung evergreen boughs over their doors to keep away evil spirits.

In the 1500s, Germans began bringing evergreen trees into their homes and decorating them. Protestant reformer Martin Luther is given credit for starting the tradition of putting lighted candles on these trees.

German immigrants brought this tradition to the United States, although it didn't catch on until the 1890s.

Santa Claus has a long history himself. It's traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born around 280 in what is now modern day Turkey. There are a variety of stories centering on the monk's generosity and gift giving. He was originally honored on Dec. 6, the date of his death.

Dutch immigrants brought this tradition to the United States in 1773. They called the monk Sinter Klaas, a name that eventually evolved into Santa Claus.

The modern day image of Santa Claus was first started in 1822 when Clement Clarke Moore published "Twas The Night Before Christmas," a story he had made up for his three daughters.

For more on Christmas traditions and history, click here... and enjoy.

Merry Christmas.

Veronica December 27, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Really enjoyed reading this. Read stories behind the great Christmas traditions by Ace Collins. V.E.

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