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The History of Christmas

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by Karen Subin

Since 1870, December 25th has federally been marked as Christmas. Cherished by thousands of people, Christmas is one of many holidays celebrated around the world. With toasty fireplaces, Santa Claus, and presents, Christmas honors the traditions that people celebrate with their friends and family.

The first commemoration of Christmas on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later, Pope Julius I promulgated that the birth of Jesus would also be celebrated on the 25th of December.

Before the cheerful Christian celebrations began, however, Romans celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia, a week of chaotic celebrations from December 17-25th, where the Roman courts were closed down and the law had dictated that citizens could not be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the feasting. The Romans firmly believed these celebrations, which chose a person from their community and forced him to indulge in the festivities. At the end of the week, on December 25th, a participant would be murdered.

To further hammer the tradition into the modern human mindset, English author, Charles Dickens wrote and created the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. This story depicts a grouchy old miser whose uncaring nature takes him down dark paths. He begins to learn the kindness of compassion through three spirits who depict the past, present, and future.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as the “ideal” family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People began to look towards different countries’ customs to see how they should be celebrating this joyous occasion. During the next century, Americans built a “melting pot” Christmas tradition all their own complete with decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.


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The History of Christmas