The Christmas Holiday – Many Holiday Traditions
Christmas is a yearly holiday when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and many families exchange Christmas gifts. It is celebrated on December 25th.
There are many holiday traditions including Christmas dinner, sending Christmas cards, visiting Santa, baking Christmas cookies and making homemade Christmas candies. Homes are decorated inside and out with colorful lights and holiday decorations. People are encouraged to spread goodwill, compassion and peace during the Christmas holiday season.
Many Christians believe the holiday has become too secular and it is common to hear cries of “getting back to the true meaning of Christmas” around the holidays. Unfortunately, the “true meaning of Christmas” doesn’t bear close scrutiny from an overall historical perspective. The “Reason for the Season” is actually the axial tilt of the planet and how pre-Christian European cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice. The long history of the holiday season is one of pagan orgies, human sacrifice, medieval hooliganism and the early church’s rather sordid attempt to corner the societal market by co-opting existing winter celebrations and hijacking symbolism from religions such as Mithraism that were in direct competition with early Christianity and posed a threat of taking hold as the preferred religion at the time. It is best to celebrate what the holiday has come to represent to modern Christians and leave the “real meaning of Christmas” on the shelf as an interesting intellectual exercise.
Some countries celebrate on Christmas Eve, other on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day, while other countries celebrate Boxing Day on December 26th. One church, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7th. The date is just a tradition and is not considered to be Jesus’ actual birth date. In fact, while December 25th is not Biblically identified as the date of Christ’s birth and is actually refuted as a potential birth date by way of the Gospel stories of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, a number of gods who would have been popularly worshipped at the time of the early Church did specifically have their birthdays on December 25th. Among them are Mithras, Dionyssus, Horus, Attis, Thammuz, Baal, Krishna…
The word “Christmas” actually comes from two words: Christ’s mass. Many of the seasons decorations lead back to Christ’s birth such as Nativity managers, star ornaments and the giving of gifts.
Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day in 800. King William I of England chose Christmas Day to be crowned king in 1066. Christmas day during the Middle ages was more of a festival and maintained features of ancient Solstice celebrations such as Saturnalia. The holiday was a social pressure valve allowing the peasantry to lord it over the nobility under the Lord of Misrule. The antics were rather more like a raucous Halloween than what we would think of as Christmas nowadays.
During the Reformation, Protestants condemned the celebration of Christmas as mere trappings, while Catholics promoted the festival as a religious event. Colonial America saw the Puritans disapproving of the trappings of the Christmas celebration and it was outlawed in Boston in 1659 to 1681. However Christian residents of Virginia and New York celebrated the holiday.
Charles Dickens’ book “A Christmas Carol”, published in 1843 did much to revive and redefine the holiday as an opportunity to instill goodwill and compassion. Washington Irving also wrote short stories about Christmas and “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore helped to cement the image of Santa Claus in the modern conception of the holiday. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a legal holiday in the United States of America.
There was great controversy in the 20th century over the nature of Christmas (was it a religious holiday or was it a secular holiday). The issue was brought to trial several times to decide because of the view that a federal holiday was a violation of separation of church and state. On December 6th, 1999, the verdict for Ganulin vs. United States declared that “the establishment of Christmas Day as “a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a secular purpose.” This decision was later upheld on December 19, 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Take a look at this interesting video about the history and origins of Christmas: