Evolution of Christmas: From spiritual pagan origins to the most successful creator of American debt
Today, Christians all over the world know Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. They celebrate Dec. 25 as the day their Savior came into the world by buying gifts for each other, decorating Christmas trees and partaking in grand Christmas dinners. People who do not identify themselves as Christians, or even people with no religious affiliation also often enjoy festivities in the same manner. For some, the question that is thrown around is, if one is not a Christian, how can one celebrate Christmas?
The answer may be shocking: because the true history of Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. The evolution of this sacred holiday from historical point of origin to the commercialized event of our era is quite a journey.
According to the History Channel, the earliest foundations of what is now known as Christmas was called Yule and took place in Nordic countries hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Yule was the celebration of the winter solstice and occurred around Dec. 21. The point of Yule was to remember life during this season when nature was seemingly dead. To do so, the Norse people would cut down evergreens and bring them into their homes.
The Romans also shared in their own version of Yule, called Saturnalia, in which they had huge feasts one week before the winter solstice began to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. Along with honoring Saturn, the birth of the sun god Mithra was observed on Dec. 25. It was not until the first century AD that these pagan observances were challenged.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the pagan observances were adopted, reformatted, and given new meaning to coincide with the new beliefs. Christians brought evergreens into their homes as the Norse did centuries earlier. They decorated the trees with red and gold apples to symbolize the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Today, those apples are now red and gold ball ornaments. Because it was not Biblically clear when exactly Christ was born, Christians also adopted the birthdate of Mithra to recognize their own god. Three centuries later, Dec. 25 was legally proclaimed as “The Feast Day of the Nativity.”
Santa Claus, believe it or not, actually has historic Christian roots. The real Santa Claus is Saint and Bishop Nickolas of Turkey who died the same year Christmas was made legal. The anniversary of his death, Dec. 6, was recognized as St. Nickolas Day. On that day each year, children who displayed good behavior were rewarded with toys, while those deemed as “naughty” received nothing. In Holland, St. Nickolas translates “Sinterklaas” (pronounced SIN-tur-klows), a name the Dutch brought with them to America.
The American Santa Claus came 1,500 years later from the imagination of Clement Clarke Moore, author of “Visit from Santa Claus.” Visit from Santa Claus, first published in 1822, was a fictional poem that paid homage to the real life St. Nickolas. In 1863, 23-year-old cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, Thomas Nast, created a visual image of Santa Claus. Nast also created Uncle Sam as well as both Republican and Democratic Party symbols of the elephant and the donkey. According to a New York Times article, “This Season’s War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else” by Adam Cohen, it was Nast’s portrait of Santa Claus and his big bag of toys that caused the shift from Christmas being a day of holiness to a day hyped by commercialism.
Cohen wrote, “Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration. The new emphasis introduced another concern: commercialism.By the 1920’s, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the ‘Christmas shopping season.’”
From spiritual pagan origins to the most successful creator of American debt, the commercialization of Christmas became a booming success by the retail world and still proves to be a profitable business today. Last November, financial journalist for MoneySupermarket.com, Jessica Brown, predicted that 3.8 million people would go into debt because of Christmas. At the beginning of this year, 47 percent of adults in America found themselves owing money thanks to the holiday.
On Dec. 2 this year, Jessica Thompson of The Harrow Observer gave five simple solutions to help minimize Christmas debt. Thompson suggests avoiding taking out loans for gifts, being realistic and budgeting accordingly. Thompson encourages consumers to be organized concerning credit card repayment.
“If you’ve borrowed money don’t forget that it won’t be long before you have to make a payment,” she said. “Make sure you pay on time, even if it is only the minimum, or you will be faced with additional charges.”
Thompson also advices to buy only from authorized dealers to avoid being scammed and, most importantly, to keep in mind everyday bills still must be paid regardless of Christmas.
“Remember that rent, the mortgage, utility bills, food bills and other existing debts still have to be paid– and the consequences can be severe if they’re not,” she said.