How Christmas Began
Have you ever wondered, while you are spending time with family and friends or opening presents, how the traditions of Christmas began?
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, Christmas wasn’t created to celebrate Jesus’ birthday In fact, in early Christianity, the birthday of Jesus was never celebrated. It is even likely that Jesus wasn’t born in the winter but in the springtime.
According to History.com’s article on “History of Christmas” written by History.com editors on December 8th, 2021, celebrating Christmas dates back to the Roman Empire 336 CE, during the rule of Constantine. This fact means that the Romans technically created Christmas; however, they called their celebration Saturnalia. It was a holiday to celebrate Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans spent the holiday socializing with each other by giving gifts and then gambling or singing while playing music. They did all of these activities instead of doing work. During this festive time, the Roman social order was temporarily turned upside down. For an entire month, enslaved people were given freedom and were treated as equals. Businesses and schools shut down for everyone to be able to participate in the fun.
In the fourth century, Church officials decided to institute Jesus’s birthday as a holiday, Pope Julius I chose the date December 25th to incorporate the traditions of the Saturnia festival. The church first named this tradition the Feast of Nativity. This custom spread through Egypt by 432 CE and to England by the end of the sixth century. By choosing to hold Christmas at the same time as other winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances of Christmas being popularly embraced.
By the middle ages, Christmas had primarily replaced the pagan religion and traditions, such as Saturnalia. On Christmas, followers would attend church then celebrate, similarly to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, Christmas became a way for the rich and upper class to repay the poor and less fortunate citizens by entertaining them.
In most of Europe, the end of December became the perfect time for celebration. In preparation for this time of year, most cattle were slaughtered for fresh meat, and wines and beer were fermented ready for drinking.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace the idea of Christmas. However, they reinvented the idea from a rowdy carnival to a family-oriented peaceful holiday. Around this time, Charles Dickens wrote his best-selling book “A Christmas Carol.” Due to his book, many people’s views on Christmas changed as people saw the benefits of celebrating Christmas. The book emphasized being charitable to others by giving gifts and spending lots of time with family. Christmas became a day where parents could give lots of attention and gifts to their children without appearing to spoil them. This is how we have the Christmas we celebrate today!