The origin of Christmas stemmed from pagan festivals like the popular Roman Saturnalia, which celebrated Winter Solstice.
In the early pre-Christian era, winter celebrations were very popular and followed pagan rituals. Paganism in Europe celebrated light and the darkest days of winter, the Winter Solstice.
What is Paganism?
Paganism describes the ancient and modern religions which identify Nature as the body of the Divine. Pagans often speak of many Gods and Goddesses. Paganism refers to the religions of ancient Greece and Rome and the surrounding areas.
Early Europeans marked the year's longest night -- Winter solstice - to celebrate the worst of the winter being behind them as they look ahead to longer days and extended hours of sunlight. During this celebration, they slaughtered livestock that could not be kept through the winter and feasted from late December through January. German pagans honored Oden, a frightening god who flew over settlements at night, blessing some people and cursing others. The Norse in Scandinavia celebrated Yule tide, with families burning a giant log and feasting on it until it turned to ash. Sound like today's Christmas? You Bet!
Nowhere in the New Testament do we see Jesus' disciples observing His birthday. Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. The apostles did not honor pagan rituals, and accordingly, preached to other Christians to avoid the pagan rituals. As a result, the early Christians didn't observe Jesus' birthday.
No one knows the birth date of Jesus, or even what year. Jesus, according to many historians was born in the springtime. The origin of Christmas took place in 336 AD. Pope Julius I declared the birth and celebration of Jesus' birthday as Christmas and chose December 25th because it coincided with the pagan traditions of Winter Solstice. The purpose was to replace the pagan celebrations with the Christian one.
Most Christmas customs, the decorating the evergreen "Christmas" tree, the hanging of mistletoe, gift exchanges, and Santa Claus, all came from pagan winter practices and secular traditions that were celebrated throughout Europe.
Christmas as we know it today, is not only a mix of ancient pagan practices and hundreds of years of adopting secular and religious traditions, it also has a Victorian period influence that affected the practice and acceptance of Christmas.
As early as the seventeenth century the celebration of Christmas was still regarded as a pagan festival that was not permitted in England and in many of the English colonies in America. It took almost 800 years for Christmas to become the important festival it is today. In the early seventeenth century, England's colorful leader Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan who followed the Bible to the word, banned Christmas as a Pagan celebration. Christmas did not return as a Christian holiday in England until Charles II came to power.
During that period in history when the Puritans descended upon America, Christmas was not recognized as a Christian festivity.
Once the colonies became independent, English influence and practices declined and our forefathers restored Christmas.
Over time, as Christians adopted Christmas and attended Christmas Mass, it became a tradition at the end of Mass to enter into wild celebrations of drinking similar to the Mardi Gras festivals, and It wasn't until the nineteenth century when the practice of Christmas and the festival like celebrations ceased and gave way to observing Christmas with family values and traditions.
Several events came into play in the Nineteenth century that changed the observance of Christmas to become a family focused tradition. New York City created the first full time, salaried Police Force in America and assigned it a riot control function to combat the increasing race and industrial riots, as well as Christmas celebrations that were getting out of control. The other was Washington Irving who authored a collection of short stories on The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, and the celebration of Christmas in an English country house. The Christmas stories portrayed an English noble man who invited the poor into his home to celebrate Christmas in a caring, friendly manner to bridge the gap between the haves and have-not. Irving's writings were believed to have widespread influence in establishing the tradition and meaning of Christmas of being a caring, non- status oriented observance of Christmas.
Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday in the US until June 26, 1870. However, on December 6, 1999, federal judge U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott ruled that Christmas has become so secular that the government does not violate the Constitution by declaring it a federal legal holiday.
Today, Christmas has evolved to being a multicultural, multi-religious holiday celebrated throughout the world. In the US over 90% of the population celebrates Christmas. Depending on national and local customs, it integrates sun worship, polytheism, pagan nature religions, Christianity, and other later myths and traditions.
Christmas has now become for the most part. a secular holiday and a commercial enterprise with many mass-produced symbols and decorations, including Santa Claus's red uniform, designed by Coca Cola.
The celebration of Christmas is enjoyed by nearly everyone! The non-religious celebrate the joyous traditions. The Christians believe that Christmas has something to do with Christ and celebrate religious rituals. The pagans celebrate nature and the tie-in with Winter Solstice. Commercial enterprises enjoy the profits from the sale of decorations, symbols, and gifts.
About The Author
Frank Dalotto is a freelance writer, travel consultant, and the editor of New Jersey Leisure Guide
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