Christmas is definitely most people’s favorite time of the year. This primarily Christian holiday became so popular that is celebrated even among non-Christians and Christmas decoration can be seen in cities across the world. With the growth of consumerism, Christmas is usually associated with emptying malls and wallets, so the first thing we think of when Christmas is mentioned are gifts. Lately, it looks like Christmas is being used more as a marketing trick than way of spreading true Christian values, but according to history, that’s actually not that far from truth.
The history of celebrating holidays in this time of the year started before Christ. Back than, the first Europeans celebrated the winter solistice (the day with the shortest period of daylight), when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight. This time of the year was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking. In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters and peasants were in command of the city.
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday; it is commonly believed that the church (precisely, Pope Julius I) chose the 25th of December in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival, although that is not time of his birth. The Bible does not mention date for his birth, but some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?). By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, Christmas was still celebrated almost the same way as Saturnalia- believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere. Because of this, Puritans (the Christian reformists that wanted to “purify” the Church of England from its Catholic practices) cancelled and banned Christmas in the 17th century; decorations were banned and soldiers walked around streets looking for people making Christmas dinner.
At the end of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas became the way we know it. Actually, Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. Famous American writer Washington Irving wrote a few Christmas stories that made the traditions we respect today popular. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought the first Christmas tree in their castle and made it popular (again) across England and America (the evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used among pagans to celebrate winter festivals; Christians use it as a symbol of everlasting life with God).