A (Brief) History of Christmas

I suppose to understand the true origin of Christmas, one must understand the celebration of mid-winter which happens on the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). From what I hear, people would build a bonfire, make a wish on an object, and cast it into the fire to make it come true for the coming year. People would also dance around the fire to bring the sun.

There is a certain magic with mid-winter. Perhaps it is the power of the beliefs of many people wishing for good fortune. In any case, people refused to stop the celebrations after the Catholic Church took over Europe some thousand years ago.

I find this next step smart on the Church’s part. Really, if you are going to conquer the world, you might as well adapt to the traditions to those of the conquered. And that’s what the Church did. A pope decreed the birth of Jesus Christ to be celebrated on December 25, which is really close to the winter solstice. And that is how Christmas became what it is. Carols were composed, traditions were honored, and the holiday survived the test of time.

Most of the popular Christmas traditions come from either Scandinavia or Germany, such as leaving cookies for Santa Claus and the Christmas Tree. Charles Dickins had a big hand in how Christmas is celebrated in England, what with the popularity of his books. And I believe Queen Victoria brought the Christmas Tree from Germany to England during her reign.

Christmas wasn’t the commercialized phenomena we know today until after World War II. Nazi Germany fell, our troops came home, and Macy’s Parade traditions started up in New York City. There is also the development of communications technology, such as the radio and television, that allowed greater publicity for such events. Macy’s became the embassy for Santa Claus, and other stores and companies took advantage of the popularity of Christmas.

For further reading, visit this elegant and finely crafted link.

Comment Question: Why do you suppose Christmas has survived so long?

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