The Origins of Christmas

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Lee Cline, writer/reporter

 

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the middle eastern man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight. (History.com, 2009)

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. However, in the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention the date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I, chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by AD 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century.  (History.com, 2009)

 

In the twenty-first century, due to the mixing of cultures, religions, and different holidays, Christmas is widely celebrated around the world. Some view the holiday as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, some view the celebration as a day to spread love and joy, and some celebrate the holiday similarly to Valentine’s Day. 

 

Christmas in Australia is a summer holiday. Summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere is from June to September but summer in the southern hemisphere starts on December 1st. It’s said that instead of reindeers, Santa will use kangaroos and don an outfit better suited for warmer weather. Christmas traditions in Australia include caroling, family barbeques, and decorating with plants native to the county, like poinsettia plants.

 

In Japan Christmas has only been widely celebrated for the past few decades. Christmas in Japan is not seen as a religious celebration but more so a time to spread happiness and love. Christmas eve is often celebrated similarly to Valentine’s day. It’s a romantic holiday for couples to spend time together and exchange gifts. The busiest time of year for KFC in Japan is Christmas, as fried chicken is viewed as a Christmas food, along with fruit sponge cake.

 

Lastly, Christmas in Ireland. Christmas in Ireland is very similar to celebrations in the US and the UK. Christmas for Irish people, who are Catholics, lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of Epiphany on January 6th, which some Irish people call ‘Little Christmas’. Epiphany isn’t now widely celebrated in Ireland.

 

There is an old tradition that in some Irish houses (although now not many), people put a tall, thick candle on the sill of the largest window after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle is left to burn all night and represents a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph.

 

In Irish (or Gaelic) Christmas is ‘Nollaig’, Santa Claus is known as ‘San Nioclás’ (Saint Nicholas) or ‘Daidí na Nollag’ (Father Christmas) and Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. The day after Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day (known as Boxing Day in the UK and some other countries), is also very important in Ireland. Like in the UK, football matches and horse racing meetings are traditionally held on St. Stephen’s Day. (whychristmas.com, 2020)

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Different cultures around the globe celebrate Christmas differently. From Europe to Asia, to North America, we all cherish our holiday traditions and the best part of Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or Kwanza is the joy it brings us and seeing our loved ones. Though this year may be different it’s good to remember we’re all in this together. COVID may take our gatherings, but it will never stifle our holiday spirit.

Joy to all and happy holidays, whatever you celebrate this year, and stay safe!

 

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History.com . “History of Christmas.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas. 

 

JPC-DESIGN, whychristmas?com /. “Christmas in Ireland on Whychristmas?Com.” Christmas Around the World – Whychristmas?Com, 2020, www.whychristmas.com/cultures/ireland.shtml.