Many of us celebrate Christmas without really knowing the origin of this holiday and its history. Some celebrate Christmas because it is a religious holiday and they are believers. Others celebrate it to have a good time with the family and to be able to enjoy some delicious meals.
Let’s discover or rediscover the origins of Christmas, Santa Claus and take a world’s tour of uses for this tradition of the end of the year.
The origin of Christmas
Several hypotheses are evoked concerning the creation of Christmas Day and its meaning but only one story comes up most often, it is the cult of Mithra.
From the first century before Jesus Christ, the inhabitants of Rome celebrated the cult of Mithra, which was the Persian god of light. That’s why a celebration was organized on December 25th for the winter solstice and for the birth of Mithra “the undefeated sun”. In 274, the emperor Aurélien decided to impose the cult of Mithra as the state’s religion and fix the celebration of the solstice on December 25th.
In fact, Christmas did not exist at the beginning of Christianity because the Jewish tradition refused to celebrate an anniversary because of this practice of pagan origin. Christians rejected during a long time this celebration. It was only towards the second century that the Church began to think of a date for the birth of Jesus whose gospels do not say anything. Various dates were proposed: January 6th, March 25th or April 10th.
Around 330 or 354, the Emperor Constantine decides to set the Christmas date to December 25th. In reality, this date has a symbolic value since the coming of Christ was considered as the rising of the “Sun of justice”, a date that celebrates the birth of Jesus.
In 425, the feast of December 25 became exclusively Christian thanks to the official standardization of Christmas ceremonies. This day spread gradually throughout Europe.
The story of Santa Claus
Santa Claus is the iconic character of Christmas Day, especially for children. But just a few really knows the story and the myth of it because several hypotheses exist.
At the time, Santa Claus was known as St. Nicholas because he had some similarities such as: white beard, long red coat and the distribution of gifts even if it was made in December 6th and not the 25th. Indeed, the wise children were rewarded with gifts brought by the Saint Nicholas, while the wicked children were punished by the Father Whipper (“Père Fouettard” in French).
To change the date of the distribution of gifts from December 6 to 25, it took the appearance of the “Santa Claus”.
Indeed, in the United States, Saint-Nicolas was the “Santa Claus”, whose name is an evolution of the Dutch Sinterklaas. After various evolutions, the distribution of gifts was postponed until December 25 to have a link with the Christmas party.
In 1821, Clement Clarke Moore, a pastor, wrote a tale that made Santa Claus appear with several modifications: a barley sugar instead of the butt, a bonnet instead of the miter and a reindeer chariot. Then, in 1860, the illustrator of a New York newspaper, Thomas Nast, replaced the clothes of the bishop of Saint-Nicolas with baggy trousers and a red jacket adorned with white fur. The color of the clothes was not fix between green, sometimes blue, and red.
In Europe, in the eighteenth century, German royalty wants to secularize the country and replace the Christian figures with Germanic symbols like elves and the old man of Christmas (the Weihnachtsmann) who distributes Christmas fir trees decorated with gifts. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is inspired by Julenisse, a Nordic goblin who offers gifts during a fest in the middle of winter : the Midtvintersblot.
It was only after the Second World War that the emblematic figure of Santa Claus appeared because this tradition of secular origins was held back by Catholics. However, for some Belgians and some inhabitants of the East of France, the feast of Saint-Nicolas and the feast of Father Christmas have nothing in common, that’s why they celebrate it very distinctly.
Regarding the participation of the Coca Cola brand, you will have understood that the mark is not at the origin of Father Noel, it is an urban legend; but it is clear that the advertising force of this giant of the industry has clearly helped to fix the red as official color and has helped to make known ever more the tradition of Santa Claus around the world and beyond the Anglo-Saxon and European borders.
Santa has experienced a great evolution and has now become the iconic character of Christmas. In some countries, the Christmas tradition did not exist, but thanks to this great character, a gift exchange is done on December 25th. For some believers, the person of Santa Claus does not exist and the exchange of gifts is done in honor of the birthday of Jesus.
A religious sense for some, a human sense for others
For believers, Christmas Day has a very Christian aspect: “the coming of the Son of God in the world”. But nowadays, the celebration of Christmas has taken on human rather than religious meaning. Indeed, only 14% of French people consider this holiday as a religious day.
Christmas has especially become a family celebration since it is a privilege to gather the whole family at least once a year, to have a good time together around a rich meal. It has also become a great day for children, to receive and open the gifts, but also to listen to the Christmas tales, to find cousins or grandparents, to imagine to hear the bells of the reindeer, to guess who hides under Santa’s costume, to wait for the snow to fall, to believe a little in magic.
Christmas traditions in the world
In some countries, Christmas Day is not celebrated in the same way, everyone celebrates according to different customs and traditions.
One of the most unique traditions is the one of Japan. Christmas has only recently been celebrated and the tradition is to eat at the KFC as a couple or with friends (the family reunion is traditional for the New Year). Indeed, it was a group of expatriates who went to eat a fried chicken menu at KFC because they could not find turkey for their meal. This is where KFC launched its special Christmas menu!
In Greece, at Christmas, people decorate their house with a boat, which is the national emblem of Greece, rather than a fir tree. In addition, they offer gifts on January 1st by “Saint Basil”.
In Russia, at the time the New Year was the most celebrated holiday unlike Christmas because the festivities were banned following the Revolution. Christmas Day is therefore celebrated on January 7th, which is the date of the Orthodox calendar. In addition, children receive their presents on the night of December 31st by Father Frost and Babushka.
In Norway, the Christmas tradition of locals is to hide their broom. This tradition dates back some centuries ago when Norwegians thought that witches came out on Christmas Eve in search of a broom to fly away. Nowadays, many Norwegians hide their brooms to prevent them from being stolen.
In Venezuela, the morning of the Christmas Eve, the inhabitants go to the church in rollerblading. This tradition has become so popular that the roads of the city center are closed to cars in order to make space for roller skaters.
Finally, in Sweden every year for fifty years now, a big goat about ten meters high is built in the city center of Gävle. Another tradition for 29 years is to burn it, a big fire that brings together all the inhabitants.
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