More, some of the stuff might repeat, but here is a little bit more into Christmas.
The True History of Christmas
Common Christmas Myths
Dec 1, 2009 Alessandra HarrisHistory of Santa Claus – Inhaus CreativeThis article contains Christmas Spoilers that may be shocking to Christians.The birth date of Jesus, history of Christmas celebrations and Santa Claus are discussed.
Today, many Christians bemoan the lack of spiritual significance in the Christmas season. But Christmas traditions have always been intermingled with secular celebrations. This article explores common Christmas myths and the little known history of the holiday in the United States.
Myth that December 25 is Jesus’ Birthday
The bible does not give the actual day, month or time of the year that Jesus was born. Most historians agree that Jesus was not born on December 25. According to the book The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum, the Church chose that date for a particular reason, “Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so ‘thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian [ones]’.”
Saturnalia was a week-long festive period beginning December 21 that honored the Roman god Saturn and included observance of the Winter Solstice. More specifically, the History.com website explains upperclass Romans celebrated, “the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25.”
Myth that Christians Have Always Celebrated Christmas
For centuries, Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus and occurs in spring, was the central event in the Christian calender. Early Christians did not begin celebrating Jesus’ birth until the 4th Century. The earliest celebrations, called “The Feast of the Nativity,” began in Rome, spread to Egypt, and reached England by the end of the 6th Century. And though it was celebrated in parts of colonized America, it did not become a federal U.S. holiday until June 26, 1870.
From the early days of Christainity (most notably Origen of Alexandria) until today (Jehova’s Witnesses), some Christians oppose the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Since the 17th Century, Puritans have successfully tried to limit or ban the celebration of Christmas. When they settled in America, Puritans had a major influence in the shift away from Mardi Gras-like Christmas celebrations (wassailing, heavy drinking and fornication) to holy, Christian-based reflections on Christ’s birth. However, the current religious backlash focuses more on the commercialism of Christmas, and the Santa Claus focus.
Myth that Gift-giving Originated from the Three Wise Men
Christians often explain the tradition of gift-giving from the biblical nativity story when the Wise Men brought the infant Jesus presents of gold, frankincinse and myrrh. However, the present day tradition of gift giving originates from a different source.
Similar to Saturnalia festivities, early Christmas celebrations were rowdy and loud celebrations when the lower classes, that usually owed debts and servitude to the rich, exerted a certain amount of freedom outside of normal social bounds and demanded that the rich give them goods in exchange for their goodwill. As Nissenbaum summarizes, “Christmas presents had their origin in wassailing and other forms of Christmas begging, in which the poor demanded gifts from the neighboring gentry- generally gifts of food and drink, to be consumed on the spot.” Gradually, the upper classes began to resent the raucus celebrations accompanying Christmas, and with the help of Santa Claus, Christmas traditions transformed from a community event into a more tame, family-centered holiday.
True that Santa Claus Originated from St. Nicholas
Like Christmas, St. Nicholas began to be recognized in the 4th Century though it is believed that he was born in the 3rd Century. One of the most famous stories associated with him,”Three Impoverished Maidens,” is found on the St. Nicholas Center website. According to the story, the saint provided a dowry for three girls that were to be sold into slavery since their father could not afford to have them married. According to legend, Nicholas threw a sack of gold through the window, and it landed in a sock drying by the fire; hence where the Christmas stocking tradition originated.
The eve of St. Nicholas Day has been celebrated on December 5 for centuries in Europe. Though The St. Nicholas Center claims that the first European explorers brought St. Nicholas lore with them to the Americas, it was not until the 1800s that St. Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus in the United States. Nissenbaum describes the transition of the stern, Bishop St. Nicholas’ role as patron saint of New Amsterdam-present day New York- to the kind-hearted person described in the 19th Century poem by Clement Clarke Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also referred to as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”) And as the poem changed the literary image of St. Nicholas, cartoonist Thomas Nast physically transformed St. Nicholas over the course of eighteen years to the jovial, rotund Santa Claus commercialized today.
By dispelling common myths about Christmas, the religious significance of Jesus Christ’s birth remains unaltered. Ways to enjoy Christmas have continuously changed throughout the ages, and facing the current American decline of consumerism, it will be interesting to see new traditions emerge.
- Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday. New York: Random House. 28 October 1997
- The History of Christmas Website