Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays on the planet. Yet so few of really know why we go about celebrating the way that we do or where our traditions originated. Every sampling of Christmas has some historical meaning or came from some earlier tradition. Christmas was celebrated before there even was a Christmas. When the winter solstice was celebrated, often the same traditions we hold onto today were begun during the time of Pagan winter celebrations.
The Christmas tree originated in these celebrations when an evergreen tree, which represented life and hope, was brought inside and hung upside down during winter solstice celebrations. Holly and mistletoe as well, had their roots in the winter solstice traditions. Holly decorated the doors and windows to keep out the bad spirits brought on by the extended darkness.
Christmas has been repeatedly banned in both Europe and the fledgling United States. Obviously, these bans were unsuccessful and Christmas celebrations are now widely celebrated throughout the world. England had the longest ban on Christmas celebrations. The British Parliament banned Christmas in 1643. The ban didn’t last as many had hoped and in 1649 and 1660 all Christmas parties and caroling was banned. Apparently it was supposed to be a solemn holiday, so the only celebration permitted was prayer and worship services.
The banning of Christmas carols didn’t go over very well, and people still sung them privately. Christmas carols are inspired and filled with hope. In 1818 “Silent Night” was written to combat the broken organ that wouldn’t be fixed by Christmas services. The Austrian priest decided that Christmas simply had to have music, and in one night he wrote out three verses to silent night along with a guitar accompaniment to salvage the music for Christmas Day.
Naturally, Christmas and Easter have randomly combated to be the holiest holiday, with Easter typically coming out as a bit more holy. However the early Puritans in the U.S. settlements tried to no avail to create Thanksgiving as the most important holiday of the year.
Though we typically don’t celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, the Christmas season officially ends on January 6th, the twelfth day. This is the day credited with the three kings entering Bethlehem with the Magi. The Reformation of the church eliminated the original twelve days and narrowed it down to only two, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some people are attempting to bring back the twelve days with family and church celebrations.
Christmas carols were originally not considered appropriate for church, and were only permitted outside of church or religious Christmas celebrations. St. Francis of Assasi was the first priest to bring Christmas carols into the church. The term Christmas carols is now defined by whether they are “church related” songs permitted in houses of worship. All other forms of Christmas music are considered Christmas songs.
Christmas has the capability to bring out the best of human nature. More money is donated to charities during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. During World War I, at midnight on December 24th, 1914 the Germans ceased fire on the allied troops. They dropped their weapons and shouted greetings and then joined the allied forces in celebration. After several days of merriment, gift giving, sharing, and soccer playing, both sides returned to their trenches and returned to the rules of war.
Random acts of human kindness are most common at Christmastime. History is loaded with examples like the impromptu truce initiated by the German troops. Christmas miracles and Christmas legends are just a small but intrinsic part of Christmas traditions. Out of all the traditions, the one that reigns truest, longest, and most complete is the tradition of human dignity and kindhearted action.