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The fullest description of these early English Yuletide trees is to be found in the diary of Charles Greville, the witty, cultured Clerk of the Privy Council, who in spent his Christmas holidays at Panshanger, Hertfordshire, home to Peter, 5th Earl Cowper, and his wife Lady Emily. Greville makes no mention of any of the bons mots that he must have heard at every meal, however, or of the indoor games and the riding, skating and shooting that always took place at Panshanger at Christmas.
Before each tree was displayed a quantity of toys, gloves, pocket handkerchiefs, workboxes, books and various other articles — presents made to the owner of the tree. When in December, , Prince Albert imported several spruce firs from his native Coburg, they were no novelty to the aristocracy, therefore. By , however, there was scarcely a well-off family in the land that did not sport a Christmas tree in parlour or hall. And all the December parties held for pauper children at this date featured gift-laden Christmas trees as their main attraction.
The spruce fir was now generally accepted as the festive tree par excellence , but the branches of these firs were no longer cut into artificial tiers or layers as in Germany, but were allowed to remain intact, with candles and ornaments arranged randomly over them, as at the present day. Whatever their type or mode of decoration, Christmas trees have always delighted both children and adults alike. But perhaps no tree ever gave greater pleasure than that first magnificent Yuletide tree set up so thoughtfully by Queen Charlotte for the enjoyment of the infants of Windsor.
Skip to main content. Google Tag Manager. The First Christmas Tree. This conclusion was based on solar symbolism, with March 25 the date of the equinox. As this implies a birth in December, it is sometimes claimed to be the earliest identification of December 25 as the nativity. However, Africanus was not such an influential writer that it is likely he determined the date of Christmas. The tractate De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae, falsely attributed to John Chrysostom , also argued that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year and calculated this as March Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord?
Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice. The rival "History of Religions" hypothesis suggests that the Church selected December 25 date to appropriate festivities held by the Romans in honor of the Sun god Sol Invictus. An explicit expression of this theory appears in an annotation of uncertain date added to a manuscript of a work by 12th-century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi. The scribe who added it wrote:.
In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day. In , German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. Hermann Usener  and others  proposed that the Christians chose this day because it was the Roman feast celebrating the birthday of Sol Invictus.
Modern scholar S. Hijmans, however, states that "While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas. Talley holds that the Roman Emperor Aurelian placed a festival of Sol Invictus on December 25 in order to compete with the growing rate of the Christian Church, which had already been celebrating Christmas on that date first.
With regard to a December religious feast of the deified Sun Sol , as distinct from a solstice feast of the birth or rebirth of the astronomical sun, one scholar has commented that, "while the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas". But the medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays.
The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin" which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours , now known as Advent. By the High Middle Ages , the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten.
Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form.
Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy , holly , and other evergreens. In , King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. Associating it with drunkenness and other misbehaviour, the Puritans banned Christmas in England in the 17th century. In the early 19th century, the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church ushered in "the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival" as well as "special charities for the poor" in addition to "special services and musical events".
Following the Protestant Reformation , many of the new denominations, including the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church , continued to celebrate Christmas. However, in 17th century England, some groups such as the Puritans , strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery " or the "rags of the Beast ".
The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglican party and the Puritan party. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity. Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.
As such, in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland discouraged the observance of Christmas, and though James VI commanded its celebration in , attendance at church was scant.
The First Christmas Tree
At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. With the atheistic Cult of Reason in power during the era of Revolutionary France , Christian Christmas religious services were banned and the three kings cake was renamed the "equality cake" under anticlerical government policies. In the earlyth century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration.
In , Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, linking "worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation.
The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser , with "Bah! In , the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights , ornaments , and presents placed round it. An image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle created a sensation when it was published in the Illustrated London News in A modified version of this image was published in the United States in Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall , Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned,  and he used the tract Vindication of Christmas of Old English Christmas traditions, that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories.
Nicholas popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas. In her book The First Christmas in New England , Harriet Beecher Stowe includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree. While the celebration of Christmas was not yet customary in some regions in the U. The First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois , "although of genuine Puritan stock", was 'preparing for a grand Christmas jubilee', a news correspondent reported in He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card".
Up to the s in the UK, many Christmas customs were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families. The mass of the population had not adopted many of the Christmas rituals that later became general. The Christmas tree was rare. Christmas dinner might be beef—certainly not turkey. In their stockings children might get an apple, orange, and sweets.
Full celebration of a family Christmas with all the trimmings only became widespread with increased prosperity from the s. Post was still delivered on Christmas Day until League football matches continued in Scotland until the s while in England they ceased at the end of the s. Under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, after its foundation in , Christmas celebrations—along with other Christian holidays—were prohibited in public. European History Professor Joseph Perry wrote that likewise, in Nazi Germany , "because Nazi ideologues saw organized religion as an enemy of the totalitarian state, propagandists sought to deemphasize—or eliminate altogether—the Christian aspects of the holiday" and that "Propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime's racial ideologies.
As Christmas celebrations began to be held around the world even outside traditional Christian cultures in the 20th century, some Muslim-majority countries subsequently banned the practice of Christmas, claiming it undermines Islam. Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian.
In some non-Christian areas, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration e. Hong Kong ; in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Countries such as Japan, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations, and Christmas trees.
Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions. Among countries with a strong Christian tradition , a variety of Christmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures.
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Christmas, along with Easter, is the period of highest annual church attendance. A survey by LifeWay Christian Resources found that six in ten Americans attend church services during this time. The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm , ivy, bays , and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green". Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome.
They were popularised by Saint Francis of Assisi from , quickly spreading across Europe. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom. The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red , green , and gold. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion , while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter, and gold is the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi , symbolizing royalty.
The Christmas tree was first used by German Lutherans in the 16th century, with records indicating that a Christmas tree was placed in the Cathedral of Strassburg in , under the leadership of the Protestant Reformer , Martin Bucer. By the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. Since the 16th century, the poinsettia , a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas carrying the Christian symbolism of the Star of Bethlehem ; in that country it is known in Spanish as the Flower of the Holy Night.
Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs , snowmen , and other Christmas figures. Mistletoe features prominently in European myth and folklore for example the legend of Baldr , it is an evergreen parasitic plant which grows on trees, especially apple and poplar, and turns golden when it is dried.
It is customary to hang a sprig of mistletoe in the house at Christmas, and anyone standing underneath it may be kissed. Mistletoe has sticky white berries, one of which was traditionally removed whenever someone was kissed under it. This is probably a fertility ritual. The mistletoe berry juice resembles semen. Other traditional decorations include bells , candles , candy canes , stockings , wreaths , and angels. Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen , make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season.
Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world. Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.
In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night. For the Christian celebration of Christmas, the viewing of the Nativity play is one of the oldest Christmastime traditions, with the first reenactment of the Nativity of Jesus taking place in A. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services often came to feature Nativity plays, as did schools and theatres.
The earliest extant specifically Christmas hymns appear in fourth-century Rome. Latin hymns such as " Veni redemptor gentium ", written by Ambrose , Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St.
Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol. By the 13th century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence of Francis of Assisi , a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed. The songs now known specifically as carols were originally communal folk songs sung during celebrations such as "harvest tide" as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church. Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound.
They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung.
An Ancient Holiday
Singing of carols initially suffered a decline in popularity after the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe, although some Reformers, like Martin Luther , wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship. Carols largely survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in popular songs in the 19th century. The 18th-century English reformer Charles Wesley understood the importance of music to worship.
In addition to setting many psalms to melodies, which were influential in the Great Awakening in the United States, he wrote texts for at least three Christmas carols. The best known was originally entitled "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings", later renamed " Hark! Felix Mendelssohn wrote a melody adapted to fit Wesley's words. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf. William Sandys ' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern contained the first appearance in print of many now-classic English carols, and contributed to the mid-Victorian revival of the festival.
Completely secular Christmas seasonal songs emerged in the late 18th century. In the 19th and 20th century, African American spirituals and songs about Christmas, based in their tradition of spirituals, became more widely known. An increasing number of seasonal holidays songs were commercially produced in the 20th century, including jazz and blues variations. In addition, there was a revival of interest in early music, from groups singing folk music, such as The Revels, to performers of early medieval and classical music.
A special Christmas family meal is traditionally an important part of the holiday's celebration, and the food that is served varies greatly from country to country. Some regions have special meals for Christmas Eve, such as Sicily , where 12 kinds of fish are served. In the United Kingdom and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey, goose or other large bird, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider.
Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding , mince pies , fruit cake and Yule log cake.
In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish often is used for the traditional main course, but richer meat such as lamb is increasingly served. In Germany, France, and Austria, goose and pork are favored. Beef, ham, and chicken in various recipes are popular throughout the world. The Maltese traditionally serve Imbuljuta tal-Qastan ,  a chocolate and chestnuts beverage, after Midnight Mass and throughout the Christmas season. The eating of sweets and chocolates has become popular worldwide, and sweeter Christmas delicacies include the German stollen , marzipan cake or candy, and Jamaican rum fruit cake.
As one of the few fruits traditionally available to northern countries in winter, oranges have been long associated with special Christmas foods. Eggnog is a sweetened dairy -based beverage traditionally made with milk, cream, sugar, and whipped eggs which gives it a frothy texture. Spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon are often added. The finished serving is often garnished with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon or nutmeg. Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding Christmas Day.
The traditional greeting reads "wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", much like that of the first commercial Christmas card , produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in Christmas cards are purchased in considerable quantities, and feature artwork, commercially designed and relevant to the season. The content of the design might relate directly to the Christmas narrative , with depictions of the Nativity of Jesus , or Christian symbols such as the Star of Bethlehem , or a white dove , which can represent both the Holy Spirit and Peace on Earth.
Other Christmas cards are more secular and can depict Christmas traditions , mythical figures such as Santa Claus , objects directly associated with Christmas such as candles, holly and baubles, or a variety of images associated with the season, such as Christmastide activities, snow scenes and the wildlife of the northern winter. There are even humorous cards and genres depicting nostalgic scenes of the past such as crinolined shoppers in idealized 19th-century streetscapes. Some prefer cards with a poem, prayer, or Biblical verse ; while others distance themselves from religion with an all-inclusive "Season's greetings".
A number of nations have issued commemorative stamps at Christmastide. Postal customers will often use these stamps to mail Christmas cards , and they are popular with philatelists. These stamps are regular postage stamps , unlike Christmas seals , and are valid for postage year-round. They usually go on sale some time between early October and early December, and are printed in considerable quantities. The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making it the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world.
On Christmas, people exchange gifts based on the Christian tradition associated with Saint Nicholas ,  and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi. A number of figures are associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. The Scandinavian tomte also called nisse is sometimes depicted as a gnome instead of Santa Claus. The best known of these figures today is red-dressed Santa Claus, of diverse origins. Nicholas was a 4th-century Greek bishop of Myra , a city in the Roman province of Lycia , whose ruins are 3 kilometres 1.
His feast day, December 6, came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. Saint Nicholas traditionally appeared in bishop's attire, accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behaviour of children during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. By the 13th century, Saint Nicholas was well known in the Netherlands, and the practice of gift-giving in his name spread to other parts of central and southern Europe.
At the Reformation in 16th—17th-century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl , corrupted in English to Kris Kringle, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve. The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors including Washington Irving and the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast — New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas. However, as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire.
By the s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the modern vision of the figure, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas. The image was standardized by advertisers in the s  and continues through the present day. Father Christmas, a jolly, stout, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character. He is first recorded in early 17th century England, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness rather than the bringing of gifts. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way.
Now, she brings gifts to all children. In other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. There has been some opposition to the narrative of the American evolution of Saint Nicholas into the modern Santa. It has been claimed that the Saint Nicholas Society was not founded until , almost half a century after the end of the American War of Independence. Hageman, of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, maintains that the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in New York was alive and well from the early settlement of the Hudson Valley on.
Current tradition in several Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States. Greek children get their presents from Saint Basil on New Year's Eve, the eve of that saint's liturgical feast.
Nikolaus wears a bishop 's dress and still brings small gifts usually candies, nuts, and fruits on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive. Multiple gift-giver figures exist in Poland, varying between regions and individual families.
As of , there is a difference of 13 days between the Julian calendar and the modern Gregorian calendar , which is used internationally for most secular purposes. As a result, December 25 on the Julian calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the calendar used by most governments and people in everyday life.
Therefore, the aforementioned Orthodox Christians mark December 25 and thus Christmas on the day that is internationally considered to be January 7. However, other Orthodox Christians, such as those belonging to the jurisdictions of Bulgaria , Greece , Romania , Constantinople , Antioch , Alexandria , Albania , Cyprus , Finland , and the Orthodox Church in America , among others, began using the Revised Julian calendar in the early 20th century, which at present corresponds exactly to the Gregorian calendar.
A further complication is added by the fact that the Armenian Apostolic Church continues the original ancient Eastern Christian practice of celebrating the birth of Christ not as a separate holiday, but on the same day as the celebration of his baptism Theophany , which is on January 6. This is a public holiday in Armenia, and it is held on the same day that is internationally considered to be January 6, because the Armenian Church in Armenia uses the Gregorian calendar.
However, there is also a small Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem , which maintains the traditional Armenian custom of celebrating the birth of Christ on the same day as Theophany January 6 , but uses the Julian calendar for the determination of that date. As a result, this church celebrates "Christmas" more properly called Theophany on the day that is considered January 19 on the Gregorian calendar in use by the majority of the world.
In summary, there are four different dates used by different Christian groups to mark the birth of Christ, given in the table below. Christmas is typically a peak selling season for retailers in many nations around the world. Sales increase dramatically as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies to celebrate.
In the United States, the "Christmas shopping season" starts as early as October. In the UK and Ireland, the Christmas shopping season starts from mid-November, around the time when high street Christmas lights are turned on. In other sectors, the pre-Christmas increase in spending was even greater, there being a November—December buying surge of percent in bookstores and percent in jewelry stores.
In the same year employment in American retail stores rose from 1. In most Western nations, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for business and commerce; almost all retail, commercial and institutional businesses are closed, and almost all industries cease activity more than any other day of the year , whether laws require such or not. Scotland is currently planning similar legislation.
Film studios release many high-budget movies during the holiday season, including Christmas films, fantasy movies or high-tone dramas with high production values to hopes of maximizing the chance of nominations for the Academy Awards. One economist 's analysis calculates that, despite increased overall spending, Christmas is a deadweight loss under orthodox microeconomic theory , because of the effect of gift-giving.
This loss is calculated as the difference between what the gift giver spent on the item and what the gift receiver would have paid for the item. Other deadweight losses include the effects of Christmas on the environment and the fact that material gifts are often perceived as white elephants , imposing cost for upkeep and storage and contributing to clutter.
Christmas has at times been the subject of controversy and attacks from various sources. Historically it was prohibited by Puritans when they briefly held power in England — , and in Colonial America where the Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas in One controversy is the occurrence of Christmas trees being renamed Holiday trees.
Supreme Court ruled in Lynch v. Donnelly that a Christmas display which included a Nativity scene owned and displayed by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island , did not violate the First Amendment. The government of the People's Republic of China officially espouses state atheism,  and has conducted antireligious campaigns to this end.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Christmas disambiguation. For other uses, see Christmas Day disambiguation. For Christmas traditions worldwide, see Christmas traditions. A depiction of the Nativity scene. January 6]: Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem . Main article: Nativity of Jesus. Main article: date of birth of Jesus. Main article: Christmas traditions.
Main article: Christmas decoration. Main article: Nativity play. Main article: Christmas music. The Herald Angels Sing. Main article: Christmas card. Main article: Christmas stamp. Main article: Economics of Christmas. Main article: Christmas controversy. Christmas portal Holidays portal Christianity portal. BBC Learning English. December 29, Retrieved September 30, Gallup, Inc.
December 24, Retrieved December 16, World Religions in Practice. Coptic Orthodox Church Network. Retrieved January 17, Dutchman News. December 17, The New York Times. The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved Archived The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Armenian Churches observed the nativity on January 6 even before the Gregorian calendar originated. Pew Research Center.
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