Explore the Real Roots of Christmas

Roots of Christmas is history. Christmas, this holiday has made a dramatic transformation from its roots. Even though the methods people use to celebrate vary just as much as the season, there’s more to this holiday than most people think. This isn’t surprising, since this is one of the most widely accepted holidays in the world. Even though it goes by multiple names, over 160 countries celebrate Christmas. This is an impressive feat, since this once secretive holiday has managed to infiltrate a majority of societies. This integration was made possible by switching the focus from religion to consumerism. Over the years, Christmas has evolved into a major commercial event. This bonanza isn’t overlooked by corporations, since they cash in on it from every corner of the globe.

Roots of Christmas

The roots of Christmas are deeply intertwined with religious, cultural, and historical traditions. The celebration of Christmas has evolved over centuries and incorporates elements from various sources. Here are some key roots of Christmas:

  1. Christian Tradition:
    • The primary religious root of Christmas is its association with the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians celebrate December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth, although the exact historical date is not known.
    • The Nativity story, as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament, narrates the events surrounding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
  2. Winter Solstice Celebrations:
    • Many Christmas traditions are linked to ancient winter solstice celebrations. In various cultures, the winter solstice, around December 21st, marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Festivals were held to celebrate the return of longer days and the sun’s symbolic rebirth.
  3. Roman Saturnalia:
    • The Roman festival of Saturnalia, held in late December, honored the god Saturn. It was a time of feasting, gift-giving, and revelry. Some Christmas customs, such as exchanging gifts and festive banquets, have roots in Saturnalia.
  4. Germanic Yule:
    • The Germanic peoples celebrated Yule, a midwinter festival, which included feasting, the burning of the Yule log, and the decoration of evergreen trees. These traditions influenced later Christmas customs.
  5. Christianization of Pagan Festivals:
    • As Christianity spread, some pagan festivals and customs were Christianized to ease the transition to the new religion. Christmas, with its emphasis on the birth of Christ, was strategically placed around existing celebrations.
  6. St. Nicholas and Gift-Giving:
    • The figure of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century bishop known for his generosity, particularly toward children, contributed to the tradition of gift-giving. Over time, St. Nicholas evolved into various gift-giving figures, including Santa Claus.
  7. Puritan Opposition and Later Revival:
    • During the Puritan-led English Civil War in the 17th century, Christmas celebrations were banned in England. However, Christmas was later revived during the Restoration period, and many of the traditional customs were reintroduced.
  8. Victorian Christmas Traditions:
    • The Victorian era in the 19th century played a significant role in shaping modern Christmas traditions. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized the Christmas tree, and many familiar customs, like sending Christmas cards and caroling, gained prominence during this time.
  9. Commercialization of Christmas:
    • In the 20th century, Christmas became increasingly commercialized, with a focus on gift-buying, decorations, and festive marketing. The figure of Santa Claus, based on various historical and legendary figures, became an iconic symbol of the season.

Christmas today is a complex tapestry of religious, cultural, and historical influences. Different regions and communities celebrate Christmas in unique ways, incorporating both religious and secular customs. The roots of Christmas are diverse, reflecting a rich history of cultural exchange and adaptation over the centuries.

Examining the Precursors of Christmas

Even though most people celebrate Christmas, few know it’s actual origins. While many Christians attribute Christmas to the birth of Jesus, this holiday goes much deeper than one religion. Ironically, this time of revelry was founded on two pagan holidays, Germanic Yule and Roman Saturnalia. These original celebrations revolved around drunkeness and unapologetic indulgence, which put them in the crosshairs of the church. Desperate to convert the pagans, Christianity re-marketed these festivals as the birth of Jesus. During the 19th century, Christmas was re-introduced as a time of union, family and gift giving.

Once Santa Clause was thrown in the mix, the stage was set for a commercial extravaganza. Australians are poised to spend $52.7 billion during this holiday season, which is a 2.6% increase from 2018. As our seasonal spending becomes more lavish, it’s easy to forget about the real roots of the holidays. To showcase what Christmas is really about, we are diving into the two pagan holidays that started it all. Saturnalia and Germanic Yule are too fascinating to ignore, since parts of these heathen practices are still celebrated to this day. Prepare to get a fresh perspective on Christmas after taking an intimate look at its  roots!

Roots of Christmas
This holiday embodies many aspects of modern Christmas.

Christmas Precursor #1: Roman Saturnalia – At the height of the Roman Empire, Saturnalia was one of the most beloved festivals of the year. This holiday honored the god Saturn, and was held on December 17th of the Julian calendar. It was later expanded through December 23rd, and involved various sacrifices at the Temple of Saturn. This multi-day extravaganza revolved around overturning Roman social norms, and allowed people to indulge in various forms of celebrations. Banquets were complimented by parties that lasted for days. Presents were also given between individuals that ranged from gag gifts to small wax figurines called sigillaria.

On top of paving the way for many traditions still practiced today, Saturnalia was a celebration of freedom. This holiday was revered by slaves and freedmen alike, since it temporarily made everyone equal. During this festival, masters switched roles and provided table service to their slaves. Gambling was also permitted, along with other indulgences that were normally taboo. Despite being a pagan holiday, the impact of Saturnalia can’t be ignored. It set the stage for multiple modern Christmas traditions, so don’t hesitate to feast with your family like the Romans did!

These sacrifices were eventually tamed and incorporated into Christianity.

Christmas Precursor #2: Germanic Yule – This indigenous midwinter festival was celebrated by the Germanic peoples during the 8th century. It normally lasted for two months, which on the modern calendar covers mid November to early January. These celebrations revolved around heavy sacrifices at heathen temples that were followed by epic feasts. This period of pagan indulgence was so engrained in the Germanic cultures that the church had no choice but to assimilate with it. In an effort to win over the local chieftains, they gradually incorporated this holiday into their religion as Christmastide. It was a success, and Yule was eventually converted into the religious traditions that we celebrate today.