Sunday will be Christmas, a day dedicated to sharing gifts and time and joy with family and friends. For those who celebrate Christmas, it is the best day of the year, when people are at their best and give their best to each other. But Christmas hasn't always been the warm, gift-giving celebration that it is today – there are many interesting facts about Christmas that many do not know.
Here are nine things that you didn't know about Christmas.
1. There were celebrations in the winter even before Christmas was established. The winter solstice was typically celebrated because at that point the worst days of winter were over. Europeans also took the time to celebrate around December because they were stacked with meat due to the fact that cattle were butchered, so they wouldn't have to be fed during the winter. Some specific holidays included:
- The Norse holiday called Yule on December 21, which celebrated the sun's homecoming by lighting yule logs on fire. The holiday would continue until the logs burned out.
- The German holiday celebrating the pagan god Oden, who determined who would live and die.
- The Roman holidays of Saturnalia, Mithra and Juvenalia, which each celebrated the Roman gods Saturn, Mithra and Rome's youth, respectively.
2. The Christmas holiday was celebrated on December 25 in order to help it become a more widely accepted holiday. The Bible does not give Jesus's exact birthday, so there was some debate as to when Christmas should be held. Ultimately, it was established on December 25 by Pope Julius I since it coincided with numerous other pagan festivals, making it easier for Christmas to be more widely accepted. Some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6 or 7 if they're following the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar.
3. In the Middle Ages, Christmas was often a "riotous" celebration, growing into more of a family-oriented holiday by the 1800s. During the Middle Ages, Christmas was "a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere" when celebrated. The holiday was quelled for a bit after falling out of favor when it became viewed as "too riotous in its celebration and too close to Catholicism in its rituals" during the Calvinist rebellion and sneered at by the intellectuals of the Enlightenment era. But Christmas came roaring back in the 1800s, when authors like Washington Irving and Charles Dicken with his famous A Christmas Carol championed the holiday as "a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status," per History.com. The revival of Christmas came at a time when families became "more sensitive to the emotional needs of children," and Christmas became a holiday to enrich the lives of children through gift-giving.
4. The Christmas revival coincided with the popularizing of Santa Claus. Santa Claus is based off St. Nicholas, who was a beloved figure in his time for generously helping those in need. St. Nicholas's Dutch nickname was Sinter Klaas – his full Dutch name was Sinter Nikolaas – and stories about him became popular through Irving's writings.
Santa Claus, as he is known today, originated in the writings of Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore, and then came to life through the artwork of political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1881. Some cultures have their own version of Santa Claus, a figure who provides gifts to children on Christmas, such as a woman named Babouschka in Russian culture.
5. It is not known how exactly the custom of Christmas trees began. Some believe that it began as Paradise Trees to celebrate Adam and Eve's day on December 24, and the tree symbolized the Garden of Eden. Among the first times a tree was used for Christmas and New Year's Day was when people danced around them in town squares. There are some who believe that Martin Luther started the custom of Christmas trees inside homes because an image he saw of stars through the tree branches "reminded him of Jesus." Others believe it originated from this German folk tale:
Once on a cold Christmas Eve night, a forester and his family were in their cottage gathered round the fire to keep warm. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. When the forester opened the door, he found a poor little boy standing on the door step, lost and alone. The forester welcomed him into his house and the family fed and washed him and put him to bed in the youngest son's own bed (he had to share with his brother that night!). The next morning, Christmas Morning, the family were woken up by a choir of angels, and the poor little boy had turned into Jesus, the Christ Child. The Christ Child went into the front garden of the cottage and broke a branch off a Fir tree and gave it to the family as a present to say thank you for looking after him. So ever since them, people have remembered that night by bringing a Christmas Tree into their homes!
At first, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, but that naturally became a fire hazard. Eventually, electric Christmas lights were invented to avoid this.
6. The tradition of kissing underneath the mistletoe originated from Norse mythology. The Norse goddess of love and fertility, Frigg, received a promise from every single thing that they would not harm her son Baldr, except for mistletoe. Baldr ultimately died when he was pierced by a branch of mistletoe. In her sorrow, Frigg transformed mistletoe into "the symbol of love so it may cause no more harm." A different version of the story has Baldr being revived from Frigg's tears, causing Frigg to proclaim "that anyone standing beneath mistletoe will come to no harm, but instead receive a token of love... a kiss," according to Altogether Christmas.
7. Christmas has been under attack by the secular left for years. The Soviet Union clamped down on Christmas since Christianity was a threat to the totalitarian mindset. Communist-led China is encouraging their citzenry to not follow the holiday. The left in the U.S. has howled rage at public displays of Christianity, such as nativity scenes at government buildings. Even the term "Merry Christmas" is under attack.
8. Winston Churchill revived America's morale on Christmas 1941. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was demoralized. It was Churchill, who was a guest in the Roosevelt White House during the Christmas holiday, who helped elevate the American psyche with a rousing speech:
December 26, 1941 was proclaimed “Churchill Day” when the British leader addressed a joint session of Congress. It was held in the smaller Senate chamber because congressional leaders worried about the image of empty seats, given that Congress was in recess. It worked out, though: the acoustics were better, and the speech was broadcast to a grateful nation on all radio networks. Churchill did not disappoint. Indeed, he was “Churchillian.”
He opened by lightheartedly saying that if his mother been British and his father American, instead of the other way around, he might have made his appearance on the Washington political scene earlier, adding, “In that case, this would not have been the first time you would have heard my voice.” In that instance, he noted, his invitation no doubt would not have been “unanimous.”
He paid homage to the American system of government, which put its faith in people, as opposed to his own, which put it trust in institutions. He scorned “privilege and monopoly,” two hallmarks of British culture. Churchill spoke without a prepared text.
Then he hit the American people and Congress right between the eyes. Churchill said 1942 would be a very bad year and that good news may not arrive until 1943 -- or even later.
He said America had “drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the shadow.” Though he predicted difficult weather ahead, he did see a happy ending -- the result of American and British courage.
“Here in Washington, I have found an Olympian fortitude which, far from being based upon complacency, is only the mark of an inflexible purpose and the proof of a sure, well-grounded confidence in the final outcome,” he said.
Churchill concluded by invoking spirituality. He was a devoted member of the Church of England. FDR, typical of his social standing, was an Episcopalian, the very church created by those bolting the English state religion. No matter. “I will say,” he intoned in that growly and determined voice, “that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, for we have the honor to be the faithful servant.”
9. The truly heartwarming stories of Christmas can be seen in the generosity of the American people. Conservative Review's Chris Pandolfo highlights five such stories:
- A five year-old giving a present to a homeless man, who gives him a skateboard in return.
- An eight year-old forgoing presents to provide resources to the Akron Public School System.
- A child who was told she could never walk donating Christmas presents to children in poor situations.
- A nine year-old using money earned from mowing lawns to donate presents.
- An anonymous person provided $46,000 for Walmart customers to buy presents.
Lost amidst the negativity – especially in 2016 – is that the American people are fundamentally good people, and Christmas certainly reflects that.