Merry Christmas! Another year, and finally another decade, has come to an end. The advancements in technology and the increasing knowledge of humanity in the 2010s transformed the ways of living, but the traditions are not forgotten. The joy and excitement of Christmas and its sweet traditions are still a necessary part of our lives.
Some of the elements that shape Christmas as we know it today as a cultural holiday are not actually so old. The Christmas celebration itself turned to a secular family holiday in the early 20th century, followed by Christians and non-Christians, and gradually took over in most parts of the world. According to the available records, a part of Christmas traditions dates back to 16th-century Germany as well as ancient Greek times.
December 25 has traditionally been associated with the winter solstice in the Roman calendar, and the Roman pagans celebrated it as a holiday for a week from 17 to 25 December. It was in the early 4th century when the church determined December 25 as the birthday of Jesus and the anniversary of his birth. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the first Christmas celebration was observed in Rome on December 25, 336.
It has been said that Christmas trees were popularized by European in the early 1800s, but bringing evergreen trees to the houses in the wintertime is a very old practice that existed long before the inception of Christianity. Those trees were a symbol and reminder of greenness and prosperity that would come after the winter. Decorating trees themselves was a German tradition in the Middle Ages.
Using apple for decorating fir trees was apparently first seen in Strasbourg in 1605. The apples represented the Garden of Eden. The use of candles as a part of tree decorations was recorded in 1611. In the long and dark days of winter, those trees would lighten up the buildings. With the advent of electricity in the late 19th century, light bulbs became a part of Christmas tree decorations, but they did not fully replace the candles.
The tradition of using evergreen trees is known as the main reason for making “green” one of the two distinctive colors of Christmas. The “red” can be either related to the red apple as well as the holly berries which ripen in winter and are regarded as one of the obvious symbols of winter. These red berries have also been associated with the blood of Christ.
In the 15th century, giving gifts by itself was one of the influential factors on turning Christmas into a friend-and-family-specific holiday, and by the end of18th century, giving gifts to family members became established as a common tradition. Christmas holidays were rejuvenated in the early 19th century, and it was when children-specific gifts became common.
Nowadays, in most of Europe, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, December 24, holding that Jesus was born on the night of the 24th. But in North America, the morning of December 25, is the prime time for exchanging gifts. It’s also the time for Santa Claus to come with his famous reindeer and fill up the stockings hanged by the chimneys.
Santa Claus’s name and his dress are rooted in Christianity. The name itself comes from Sinter Klass, the shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Saint Nicholas) in Dutch. In the 3rd century, Saint Nicholas was famous for his philanthropic acts, and over the years his popularity made him known as the patron saint of children. Around 1200-1500 was regarded as the sole bringer of gifts.
In the late 19th century, two poems helped to establish the image of Santa Claus as what we see today. The first one was called “The Children’s Friend”, written by an anonymous poet in 1881. One year later, in 1882, Clement Clarke Moore in his long poem about Christmas, wrote about Santa, and his ability to ascend a chimney.
In his poem entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, he also mentioned Santa Claus’ companion, a flying reindeer who helped Santa spread the gifts among the children who deserved it. Almost 50 years later, Robert L. May, elaborated on the story of the reindeer called Rudolph “the most famous reindeer of all”.
In various countries of the world, other mythical figures had roles similar to Santa Claus. In Germany and Switzerland, it was believed that Christkind (Christ’s child) or Kris Kringle brought presents for good children. Jultomten in Scandinavia delivered the gifts to children on a sled let by goats. In Italy, a kind witch called La Befana used to put toys the stockings of lucky children after ascending the chimneys on her broomstick.
Nevertheless, Christmas is mingled with various local traditions in different parts of the world, but it is like a unified celebration everywhere, and as the most important holiday of the year, it brings joy, reminds us of love and friendship to us all, and prepares us for a happy and prosperous year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!