We all remember to wish each other Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year at the end of each year. Although Christmas traditionally celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, people celebrate it irrespective of their religious leanings with a wide exchange of gifts and good wishes.
Noël in French, Natale in Italian, and Navidad in Spanish, Christmas is related to the nativity. Therefore, it is shocking to know that for the first two centuries in the history of Christianity, Church Fathers were not enthused with the idea of celebrating the birthdays of saints and martyrs. This opposition’s inherent idea was to honor their martyrdom by acknowledging the day they succumbed to their cause. These days were their true birthdays in the church’s eye.
Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas,” postulates that initially, the Church wasn’t eager about the idea of Christmas. The people had started to think of Jesus Christ as an entity rather than a person who had lived once. He further says that the Church warmed up to the idea of Christmas after it realized that the best way to make sure that someone was alive was to celebrate their birth, which would prove that they existed.
Furthermore, there is no real proof that Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December. One can easily assume that the Christian religious institution adopted a widespread practice of celebration from mainstream culture and made it a part of their religious tradition.
A theory supporting this claim is that Christmas was born out of Christianizing the Roman festival of Saturnalia, where the winter solstice was celebrated as the resurgence of the sun. It was said to be a celebration of regeneration and rebirth, the barren nights of winter giving way to the warmth of spring and light of summer. Many writers even connect the resurgence of the sun to the birth of the Son.
Christian missionaries, on encountering any religion that wasn’t their own, labeled it as pagan. Although their sole motive was to propagate Christianity, it would be wrong to say that there wasn’t an element of fascination when they discovered different traditions. Romans celebrated this festival where a part of it was candle lighting, singing, and decorating their homes.
What Came From Where
- The Germans are to be thanked for the Christmas tree, but the idea was born out of the prevalent pagan tradition of bringing greenery into their homes as a sign of vitality during the winter.
- Our beloved Santa Claus came into existence fairly recently too. His origin is attributed to the Father Christmas of England, who originated from pagan spirits that roamed the skies in winter.
- The mistletoe was considered a healing part of the oak tree. People started to hang mistletoe at their doorways as a symbol of peace.
- Germans claim to have begun the gingerbread house tradition as well. German Grimm Brothers, in their story “Hansel and Gretel,” took this tradition to a whole new level, and it has been going strong ever since.
- Leaving food for Santa and his hardworking reindeer can be dated back to Norse mythology, but the Americans came up with the idea of putting sweet treats as a sign of gratitude during the hard times of the Great Depression.
Christmas Was Banned
While Christmas was widely welcomed for its spirit of cheer in the cold and dark winter nights, the puritans disregarded Christmas as an occasion of indulging in excess. They opposed the celebration of Christmas on principle, and when Oliver Cromwell came to power in England, Christmas was banned for almost 20 years.
But it returned and has been going strong ever since. Christmas cheer is spread through warm smiles and the exchange of gifts, which is a fairly new tradition. The tradition could have begun with Queen Victoria giving her daughters and her husband gifts on Christmas eve of 1850 and every year thereafter. Since then, it has become a convention to expect and give presents to loved ones on this holiday. However, the sheer excess has reduced this festival to a show of consumerism, which can be easily likened to the excess and alcoholism the puritans so opposed.
It can be fairly deduced that although Christmas is now seen as a Christian holiday through and through, that hasn’t always been the case. However, this discovery doesn’t take away all the cheer and hope that this holiday brings into our lives, making the winter a little warm and our lives more buoyant.