The History of Christmas

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Janna Urnagan, Staff Writer

If you’ve ever seen your neighbors put up bright, colorful lights in red and green, then it’s probably the time of the year many people have been waiting for: Christmas. Christmas is celebrated annually worldwide on December 25; its religious purpose is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. So people celebrate Christmas with traditions and religious practices. Customs like decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with your family, and most importantly—waiting for Santa Claus to arrive with gifts. But how exactly did it begin? The holiday that the early days of Christianity celebrated was not the birth of Jesus—but instead Easter. So Christmas was only celebrated when church officials recognized it was a holiday. 

There are a few views on the origin of Christmas. The Norse, originating from Scandinavia, celebrated Yule, the winter solstice. December 25 was widely accepted as Jesus’ birth because Pope Julius I declared it so, though the Bible never mentioned that date. He made the date of Christmas correspond to the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. One explanation for why Christian leaders chose December 25 as the date for Christmas is their attempt to Christianize the “day of the unconquered sun.” The “day of the unconquered sun” was a popular holiday in the Roman empire to celebrate the resurgence of the sun, or in other words, the return of the sun, a symbol for the winter solstice. It was the casting away of winter and the indicating rebirth of spring and summer. Christianity introduced a connection to the birth of the Son, Jesus, and the sun.

There’s one Christmas origin story that is Bible-based: the traditional Christmas narrative when Mary and Joseph arrived in the city of Bethlehem to stay at an inn. According to the Christian Bible, the lack of space at the inn resulted in Mary and Joseph staying in a stable where Jesus Christ was born. Christianity believed that God came into the world as a man to atone for the sins created, which is another reason to celebrate Christmas.  

Santa Claus was known to children as a chubby and jolly good man who sneaks under chimneys and brings toys to the nicest little girls and boys. Who exactly is Santa Claus? His story goes back to 280 A.D. with a monk named Saint Nicholas, born in Turkey. Nicholas gave all his wealth to help the poor and sick. One St. Nicholas story that led him to earn the title of the protector of children was when he saved three sisters from being sold into slavery and prostitution. Much to Nicholas’ generosity, he became the symbol of gift-giving. The United States portrays Santa Claus with a magical sleigh flown by eight reindeers and one special reindeer named Rudolph. He flies from house to house to deliver toys to children.

In some regions, celebrating Christmas was not yet custom. The old puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday, though every year makes it more so,” says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Finally, 1860 came around, and fourteen states adopted Christmas as a legal holiday, then declared federally on June 28, 1870.