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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trivia, facts, and origins of Christmas

Christmas is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday by a large number of non-Christians worldwide, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian.

Here are a few interesting facts about the history and origin of everyone's favorite holiday, Christmas.

December 25 was chosen to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, although the date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus.

Christmas is an amalgam of the traditions from several cultures, accumulated over centuries.

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means "the birthday of the unconquered sun". Celebrated on December 25. The Sun God, Mithras was popular among pagan Romans in the first century BC.

Winter festivals were the most popular festivals of the year in many cultures. Roman Saturnalia was in honor of Saturn, god of agriculture. Customs of the winter festivals include gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia, greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year, and Yule logs and various foods from Germanic feasts.

Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan traditions had a major influence on Christmas.

Many historians believe that the church wanted their own winter festival to compete with the pagan festivals, and chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The custom of embracing under a sprig of mistletoe (but not actually kissing) was a popular custom among the Druids in Britain in the 2nd century BC.

Father Christmas is the name used in many English-speaking countries for a symbolic figure associated with Christmas. Father Christmas is said to wear (these days) a bright red suit, but in Victorian and Tudor times he wore a bright green suit.

Father Christmas typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, but was neither a gift bringer nor particularly associated with children. In the English-speaking world, the character called "Father Christmas" influenced the development in the United States of "Santa Claus." The folklore of "Saint Nicholas," (Sinterklaas), the gift-giver, merged with English character Father Christmas to create the modern Santa Claus character.

The original Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey in the 400s. St. Nick brought gifts to children. He wore red and white bishop's ropes and had a long white beard. He traveled, not by reindeer and sleigh, but on a donkey. But Saint Nick was slender and elegant, not large and round.

In America in the 1860s, Cartoonist Thomas Nast created the modern Santa, with rosy cheeks and a rotund figure.

Marketing concepts at the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago in 1939 included "Rollo, the red-nosed reindeer" and "Reginald, the red-nosed reindeer." Both were considered, but then changed to "Rudolph."

The earliest Christmas trees were undecorated, and began in Germany in the 700s.

In the 1820s, the US Postal Service complained of homemade Christmas cards that were clogging the mail. Commercially printed Christmas cards originated in London in 1843.

The poinsettia become associated with Christmas in North America in the mid-1800s.

Following the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, groups such as the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery" or the "rags of the Beast." The Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form.

England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647. The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration.

In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. The English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas entirely, considering it a time of wasteful and immoral behavior.

Christmas celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros.

In the mid-19th century, celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region. At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely.

Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom.

In the 1820s, some writers began to worry that Christmas was dying out. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol, that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment.

The Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Christmastide is defined as the period from Christmas Eve to the evening of January 5, the day before Epiphany. This period is also commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas, as referred to in the Christmas carol of the same name, or "Yuletide."

Today, in America, Christmas is the most popular holiday of them all.


Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
Charles Panati