The History of Christmas
12 Nov 2015
As the song says: ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.’
Except it’s not is it? We’re into what feels like week 38 of Christmas fever and everywhere is covered in tinsel, glitter and reindeer. It’s like this already and it’s still only the middle of November. Let me say that again: the middle of November. Every year Christmas seems to get earlier and earlier and the constant reminders to buy presents become more and more tiresome.
Well we’re taking a stand!
Christmas isn’t about penguins or presents or men on the moon. It’s about . . . well, what is it about?
Our friends in our historical community H for History have been investigating the history of Christmas in the hope of re-kindling some of its true spirit.
So here are a few facts about the history of Christmas you may or may not have known.
1.The word Christmas comes from ‘Christ’s Mass’ and orginiates in the Old English word Cristesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.
2. The Christian ecclesiastical calendar contains many remnants of pre-Christian festivals and Christmas includes several elements of the Roman feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra.
3. Many popular customs associated with Christmas, including gift-giving and the Yule Log, developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus' birth and were syncreitsed into Christmas over the centuries.
4. The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival-like state in the Middle Ages to the more subdued family affair developed in the 19th Century.
5. In religious terms, In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the magi.
6. The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.
7. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it "a popish festival with no biblical justification", and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior. The ban was only overturned in 1660.
8. It was during the Reformation in 16th–17th-century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed to Christmas Eve.
And finally . . .
Everyone knows that the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. But did you know that the image of Santa in the red suit with the white fur trim was actually standardised in the west by Haddon Sundblom in his work for the Coca Cola company in the 1930s?