Merry Christmas 2020
The Christian holiday of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God and born of the Virgin Mary. This is the miracle of Christmas. It is celebrated on December 25th each year, though that day is unlikely when Jesus was actually born. In fact, the date was not recorded in the Christian Bible. December 25th was chosen by Pope Julius I in 4th-century Rome, and it was likely chosen to coincide with and replace pagan winter solstice festivals that celebrated the light of the coming days. During Europe’s Middle Ages, which lasted 1,000 years between the 5th and 15th centuries, Christians had absorbed and transferred pagan traditions to their celebration of Christmas.
Christmas Day in the Middle Ages more closely resembled the wild celebrations of Mardi Gras today. People feasted on meat from animals that they didn’t want to feed through the winter. Beer and wine were fermented and ready to drink. The poor who didn’t have enough to celebrate in such extravagant ways would get into some mischief, dressing in costume and visiting homes of the rich, demanding food and drink, like trick-or-treating. While some wealthy folks enjoyed this tradition, not all interactions were peaceful.
In the 1600s, Puritans sailed from England to New England, and when they arrived, they banned Christmas for nearly 30 years. They did not approve of the glut of food and drink, nor the Catholic holiday’s Pagan roots. They also argued that the Bible gave no indication that the birth of Jesus should be recognized in any way.
Boisterous celebrations did return. In the early 1800s, during a period of widespread unemployment and poverty, the wealthy continued to celebrate Christmas with their abundance of food and drink, while the poor had nothing to celebrate with. The stark economic disparity led to protests and riots. The response in New York City was to create its first police force in 1828, and the wealthy were moved to celebrate Christmas quietly and privately going forward.
It was the author Charles Dickens who solidified Christmas as a quiet holiday of charity and goodwill in the minds of American and European Christians with his book A Christmas Carol. And, as Europeans immigrated into the United States in the 19th century, they brought with them their own cultural Christmas traditions that became part of the American melting pot. Christmas is as much a religious celebration as it is an American cultural and commercial phenomenon. Many Christmas traditions are still rather new, like sending greeting cards, wearing ugly sweaters, displaying mischievous elves, and giving lots of presents…from Santa Claus, a fictional character based on a 4th-century Greek Bishop, Saint Nicholas, who gave gifts to the poor.
While Christmas is a very important Christian holiday, it’s celebrated by many kinds of people, from Catholics and those belonging to other Christian religions, to secular families and even nonbelievers. Many religiously blended families and people belonging to non-Christian religions celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday, too. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, and every country has its own unique Christmas traditions, stories, and legends. Even American Christmas traditions vary among our diverse fabric of ethnicities and nationalities. It’s a wonderful time of year.
Find out more about the celebration of Christmas!