Christmas: Social History
The real story behind Christmas. Where it started to what the celebration means now.
‘Tis the season for merriments and joy, for it is Christmastime! Surely, most people in today’s society would know what Christmas is or at least have an idea of what it would look like due to the fact that Christmas celebrations have become globally celebrated and capitalized. This is mostly attributed to the celebration being catapulted by Western media’s interpretation of a joyous and cheery, most of the time white and snowy, Christian holiday.
Through their touching and heartwarming holiday-based movies and their catchy music for the season, this holiday has become a worldwide spectacle for all to enjoy. This Western influence also contributed to the wondrous traditions of gift giving and decorative activities with its trademark Christmas tree, as well as mythical stories of Santa Claus, flying reindeers and helpful elves in the North Pole that surrounds the holiday, bringing a more magical image to the celebration, appealing to the Christians and non-Christians alike. For this reason, Christmas has become more secular, separating its religious elements for a more inclusive celebration.
However, Christmas wasn’t initially celebrated that way. The evolution of Christmas as a social, non-religious event only happened quite recently in the early 20th century, possibly due to the rising use of entertainment and media for the display of Christmas that appeals to the indiscriminate viewers at the time. Even the term ‘Christmas’, or mass on Christ’s day, only came about around the same time for a more commercial and accessible use. The etymology of Christmas throughout history, as well as its inception, is closely related to its geographical origin. For example, the Scandinavians celebrated Yule, referring to the feast of the winter solstice, that lasts from December 21 through January, recognizing the coming of winter and the return of the sun.
This recognition would be the basis of Yule’s period of celebration, that ranges as long as 12 days, due to the tradition of finding large logs and setting them on fire, feasting until the log burns out. Ultimately, this would introduce the festivity of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ or ‘Twelvetide’ in Christian celebrations. At the same time, there was also Saturnalia in Rome where they honored Saturn, the god of agriculture, as well as the honoring of pagan Gods in Germany. Regardless, these celebrations often coincide around the same time, leading to the appointment of Christmas Day at the same time of the traditional winter solstice festivals.
Although there are many holes in the understanding of Christmas origins, whether it was twists and turns of ancient politics among different religions or simply due to uncertainty in historical journaling, many experts have tried to patch and amend as many inconsistencies in history with substantiated reasoning and proof, leading to the collective conclusion of what we know of Christmas today.
The adaptation of a holy celebration to advancements in technology and media has allowed what started off as religious and quite regional to become something more secular and global. With this change, Christmas has become an iconic time of the year for all, marking good memories and feelings of gratitude for everyone as a community. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!