If you’re anything like us at Voice and Vision you’re eagerly anticipating this extra-long holiday weekend. We want to give you some Christmas facts as a gift. These facts can be used to spark conversation at your next gathering. (You’re welcome).
Origins Of Christmas
Christmas‘ origins are rooted in both Roman and pagan cultures. Two holidays were actually celebrated by the Romans in December. The first was Saturnalia. This was a festival that honoured their god of agriculture Saturn. They celebrated the birth of Mithra on December 25th. Both celebrations were full of revelry and alcohol.
The darkest day of the year is December. In this month, pagan cultures also lit candles and bonfires to keep the darkness away. This tradition was also carried over to Roman celebrations.
The Christian clergy could not stop pagan celebrations and customs as Christianity spread throughout Europe. Because no one knew Jesus’s birth date, the pagan ritual was adapted to celebrate His birthday.
The solstice celebrations saw pagan cultures decorate their homes with greens to welcome the coming of spring. Evergreen trees were believed to have special powers because they remained green even during the darkest and coldest of days. Romans decorated their temples during Saturnalia with fir trees and added bits of metal to them. Even the Greeks decorated trees to honour their gods, according to records. It is interesting to note that the first trees were brought into pagan homes from the ceiling and hung upside down.
The tree tradition we know today comes from Northern Europe. There, Germanic pagan tribes decorated evergreens trees to worship the god Woden with candles. In Germany, the tradition was adopted into the Christian faith during the 1500’s. They decorated their trees with sweets, lights and toys.
This Christmas tradition was inspired by St. Nicholas and has Christian roots rather than pagan. He was born in Turkey in 280. He was a bishop in the first Christian church. There are many legends about him, but his most notable achievement is the rescue of three girls from being sold into slavery. Their father had no other option than to offer a dowry in order to persuade a man to marry them. St. Nicholas is believed to have saved them by throwing gold through an unclosed window into their home. Legend has it that gold fell in a sock while drying by the fire. Children began hanging stockings near their fires hoping St. Nicholas would give them gifts.
To honor his passing, the 6th of December was designated St. Nicholas Day. Each European culture developed their own version of St. Nicholas over time. Christkind (Christ child) was a German and Swiss version of St. Nicholas. They delivered presents to children who were well behaved. Jultomten, a happy elf who delivered gifts using a sleigh pulled by goats in Sweden, was Jultomten. There was also Father Christmas in England, and Pere Noel France. He was also known as Sinter Klaas in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Lorraine. For the record, Klaas is a shorter version of Nicholas. This is the origin of Americanized Santa Claus.
Christmas In America
Christmas in early America was mixed. Puritan beliefs forbade Christmas due to its pagan roots and the loud nature of the celebrations. Others from Europe also continued to follow the traditions of their home countries. In the 1600’s, the Dutch brought Sinter Klaas to New York. In the 1700’s, Germans brought their tree traditions with them. Each community celebrated its own way.
The American Christmas was not created until the 1800s. Washington Irving created a series about a rich English landowner who invites his workers for dinner. Irving loved the idea of people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate Christmas. He told a story about how a wealthy landowner had restored old Christmas traditions that were lost and reintroduced them. The idea of American Christmas began to take root in America’s hearts through Irving’s story.
Clement Clark Moore, a father of three, wrote An Account Of A Visit From St. Nicholas in 1822 for his daughters. The Night Before Christmas is now known for its famous title. It was here that the modern Santa Claus image of a cheerful man riding a sleigh through the sky became a reality. In 1881, Thomas Nast, an artist, was hired to draw Santa for a Coke-a-Cola ad. He created a rotund Santa surrounded by worker-elves. The American culture embraced the image of Santa as a happy, fat, white-bearded man wearing a red suit.
A National Holiday
The country sought ways to transcend differences and unite as a nation after the civil war. It was declared a federal holiday by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870. While Christmas traditions have evolved over time, Washington Irving’s desire to celebrate unity and harmony in celebrations is still evident. This is a time when we give gifts with joy, wish others well and donate to charities that we love.We wish you the happiest holidays and the merriest Christmases, no matter where you are.