Thursday, December 2, 2010

The History of Christmas

Well, we've only got 23 days, almost 22, left until the most wonderful day of the year arrives. This holiday is widely celebrated across the globe as a time to be with family, and to help make others happy. Christmas has become a time of decorations, cookies, presents, and Santa Claus, but the message behind it all has remained the same. Let's take a trip through time to see how the holiday began.
The word Christmas first appeared sometime in the year 1038. It was used as a day of feasting and celebrating of the birth of Jesus Christ, and christian scholars in those days had agreed that the day of that event was December 25. This has been debated by many scholars for years, but the depth of those arguments are too long to go into. The point is, it was a day set apart in the middle ages for people to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.
For many people, this tradition continues to this day. The Nativity is one of the most famous stories children can read about during this time of year. Many Christian churches do different things to bring this event to life (from plays to walkthroughs, where people can walk about in a re-created Bethlehem). Some people even set up Nativity sets outside of their homes so people who drive by can enjoy the memory of the holiday's origins.
As time went by, people have added more ways to celebrate this holiday. People in Roman settlements (and some Jewish people as well) used to bring in branches from evergreen plants for the winter. Some of these plants included holm, ivy, bays, and hollies (which is still used as a decoration today). The Christmas tree was a way to Christianize a pagan tradition surrounding the Winter Solstice, which involved green plants as well. The custom was first said to have originated in Germany before becoming widespread in Britain by 1841. However, it wasn't until about 30 years later that Christmas trees began popping up in America. Today we add ornaments and lights to the trees, probably as a way to keep light shining in the darkness.
Some people may think Christmas carols may be a thing which is relatively new, but it isn't. Songs about this holiday go all the way back to 4th Century Rome, the first being Veni redemptor gentium. Songs were added on in the Middle Ages including Adesti Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful, which is still sung today). One of the most famous carols added was in 1818, and Austria was the first country to hear Silent Night. Christmas carols have been added that appear to be mainly for entertainment purposes, including Deck the Halls (1784) and Jingle Bells (1857, and was copyrighted in America).
Probably one of the most iconic practices this time of year is gift giving. Many companies and businesses use this as a way to bring in lots of money this time of year. However, in the Middle Ages, it was banned by the church because they thought it had pagan origins. However, it was reinstated after being recognized as a symbol of the gifts the Magi brought the baby Jesus on that special day. Today we have a new person who brings gifts to girls and boys across the world...Santa Claus.
Santa, unarguably one of Christmas's most famous icons, didn't start out as a jolly man from a workshop at the North Pole. The earliest version of Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas, who was Bishop of Myra during the 4th century. Saint Nicholas loved children, and used to care for them and give them gifts. A feast was eventually established on December 6 where the practice of gift giving came to fruition. Saint Nicholas would check the behavior of children for a year, and would decide if they deserved a gift or not. Over the years, the story of a man giving gifts to good children spread throughout Europe, although the name would change. Examples included Father Christmas and Kris Kringle (an English corruption of Christkindl), and the practice of gift giving was moved to December 24 (Christmas Eve). When those traditions and stories were brought over to America, the name became Santa Claus. Originally drawn in Bishop's robes, his attire was changed to the fur-wearing old man we know today. The elves and Mrs. Claus would not come until much later.
Although Christmas goes back a long way and has had many changes over the year, the spirit of the holiday remains the same. It's a time where we gather with friends and family to enjoy each others company. No matter how many changes the holiday may experience, the spirit of love and joy will always be in the holiday.

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