The Origins of Christmas?

With over 2.1 billion Christians in our world today, there is no question that Christmas is a big deal. It is not only a huge hallmark in the religious calendar but now has also been secularised and is celebrated by non-Christians too. In this article, the history and origins of one of the most fascinating holidays will be explored. Historical records suggest that a man named Jesus was crucified in either AD 30 or 33. His birth may have been celebrated by early apostles, but it was not necessarily on the 25th of December. In fact, Christmas does not even appear on the list of festivals given by the early Christian writers, Irenaeus and Tertullian. During this time the pagan tradition of celebrating birthdays was criticised by leaders in the Christian faith such as Origen and Arnobious who wrote around 300 years after Jesus’s birth. Christmas appeared soon after under the authority of Pope Julius I who set the 25th of December as the official birthdate of Jesus and initially termed it ‘The Nativity Feast’. It is actually still celebrated as ‘Nativity Feast’ in many Eastern traditions but later became known otherwise in the Western Church. The Chronograph of 354 records that a Christmas celebration took place in Rome in 336, eight days before the calends of January and arguably this was the first on record. The reason for the initial celebration of Christmas on the 25th is rooted in paganism (a term used by early Christians for those who practice polytheism or non-Abrahamic religions). The Saturnalia festive, celebrated on the 25th of December was the date of the winter solstice in the Roman calendar and was very important to pagans. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton, who coincidentally was born on December 25, argued that the date of Christmas may have been selected to correspond with the solstice. Christmas was embraced by many and by the Middle Ages Christianity had mostly replaced paganism which only has approximately 18 million followers today. Paganism, however, had a surprisingly large role to play in the Christmas we know today. Wassailing was a pagan tradition that included people going from door to door singing, it is now a Christmas tradition too and has evolved into modern-day carolling. We also see Christmas trees wherever we look around during the holiday season, but these trees have been used by pagans and Christians alike to celebrate winter festivals such as the winter solstice for many years. On the other hand, another reason that the day the 25th of December could have been chosen is to do with the ‘calculation hypotheses. The Calculation hypothesis suggests that an earlier holiday held on March 25th was associated with the incarnation. Christmas was then calculated as nine months later. The Calculation hypothesis was proposed by French writer Louis Duchesne in 1889. Regardless of how Christmas arose, it would still take time for it to find its place as one of the biggest yearly celebrations. While Christmas was central to the medieval calendar there have been many occasions in which it faced opposition. During the Arian controversy of the fourth century, the holiday declined for a while but regained prominence after 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor. Despite facing many other hiccups along the way including it being banned temporarily in England during the Puritan era, it was restored as a holiday in 1660 and was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. The fascinating history of Christmas and the traditions that have impacted it have made it what it is today, a holiday celebrated by billions across the globe. ​ By Ahaana

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