The Celebration of Christmas Has Evolved Tremendously Over the Centuries

by Caleb Engle

The celebration of Christmas has evolved tremendously over the past thousand years, and is practiced in a wide variety of ways today.

The date on which Christmas is celebrated today, December 25th, was made official at 354 AD. [1] The history behind how that date was chosen is convoluted and complex, but essentially, Roman Pagans had celebrated violent rituals on and around that date before the Christian holiday was established, and Christians were more successful in converting the pagan regions by establishing the 25th of December as the birth of Christ. This way, a festive atmosphere was maintained through this religious conversion. [2] By the 11th Century, the original name “Yule” would be changed to “Christmas,” coming from the Old English word “Cristes Maesse” meaning “Christ’s Mass.” [3]

During the 17th Century, Christmas began to face adversary in England when it was outlawed after the Puritans, lead by Oliver Cromwell, took over England in 1645. In his vow to “rid England of decadence,” he cancelled Christmas. Although, the holiday was soon returned following the restoration of Charles II to power. [4]

Despite the holiday’s current adoration, post-Revolution America did not cherish Christmas on any comparable scale to today. This was due to the anti-English feelings of Americans following their separation with the motherland. Celebrations of Christmas at this time were mainly very wild gatherings in the streets that often consisted of riots. It was not until 1870 that Christmas was even declared a federal holiday. By then Christmas had transitioned more towards peaceful celebrations that focused on spending time with family. Much of this transition is attributed to Washington Irving’s best-selling book, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. This book published in 1819, describes how Christmas is celebrated in England, depicting the generous family-centered celebrations we know today. In reality, Irving had actually never been to England, and essentially invented those traditions in America. [4]

The most common Christmas tradition, the decorating of the Christmas tree, began in Germany in the 17th Century. When Prince Albert of Germany married Queen Victoria of England, he brought a Christmas tree with him, and the tradition quickly spread throughout England and America. [5]

The origins of Santa Claus in America is largely attributed to poems of the 1820s such as Old Santeclaus and Twas Night Before Christmas, which brought the concept of the jolly old man and his reindeer, as well as the Christmas tradition of stocking hanging, into America’s mainstream. [6]

Today, Christmas contains only a miniscule amount of its original roots, and has evolved into a just general festive time of the year celebrated by all kinds of people, religious or not. Holiday classics such as A Christmas Story (1983) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) capture the holiday spirit and nostalgia of Christmas during adolescence, which so many Americans connect to.  [7]

Senior Ethan Welty said that his Christmas celebrations mainly consist of spending time with family. “I go to my aunt’s house and spend time with my family,” said Welty. “We watch Christmas movies and open gifts. We celebrate Christmas for the family and food. There isn’t really a religious aspect. I’m not religious, and neither are my parents.”

When asked if senior Brett Daniluck’s family celebrates Christmas, he commented that his family goes to church on Christmas Eve. “On Christmas we open gifts and spend time with each other. I think that Christmas is becoming less religious and more of a tradition. There’s a ton of atheist families who celebrate Christmas.”

Senior Anthony DeVincentis, says that, while he’s not religious, his family does incorporate religious aspects into their Christmas celebrations. “My family just does a normal Christmas I guess. We make [a] fire on Christmas Eve and the family gathers together. I’m not really religious, but my parents are. It’s just Christmas to me, I don’t really even think about the religious aspect of it. My mom puts up a nativity scene, and it doesn’t bother me or anything, is just what Christmas is to me.”

Although originally just a religious holiday, Christmas has things that people of all cultures can relate to, such as the importance of generosity and spending time with your family. This is why Christmas so cherished and such a huge part of an extremely diverse American culture.

[1] http://www.localhistories.org/festivaltime.html


[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Christmas

[4] http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

[5] http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2037505,00.html

[6] https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/html/1807/4350/poem1485.html

[7] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085334/