In Australia, Christmas is associated with the blazing heat of summer, the smell of meat cooking on the barbecue and backyard cricket – among other things.
However, the festive season looks very different in other parts of the world, with our Northern friends in America and England marvelling at the beauty of a white Christmas, much like their European neighbours.
Despite the different cultural adaptions of Christmas in different parts of the world, there are two blaring similarities – Christmas is considered a cultural and commercial phenomenon, regardless of geographical location.
But, where did this holiday really come from, and how has it developed into the tree decorating, gift-giving occasion that we now celebrate?
The True Origins of Christmas
People have been celebrating Christmas for two millennia, observing traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.
For Christians, Christmas Day is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. However, despite the birth of Christ being celebrated on December 25, festive celebrations were taking place across the world long before this religious figure was born.
For instance, it was around this time of year that early Europeans celebrated the winter solstice, as it marked the part of the year when the worst of the harsh weather was behind them and they could start enjoying longer days with extended hours of sunlight. This took on a few different forms. In Scandinavia, people would ignite log fires and feast until the flame died out, while in Germany those who worshipped the pagan god, Oden, would remain indoors as it was believed he would make nocturnal flights through the sky observing his people. During these flights, he would decide who would prosper and who would perish.
In the early days of Christianity, the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated. In fact, in these early years, Christians only celebrated Easter (the death and rising of Christ). By the fourth century, church officials instituted Jesus’ birth as a holiday. Since the Bible doesn’t mention an actual date for when this occurred, Pope Julius I chose December 25. It’s believed this date was chosen in an effort to adopt and absorb other religious and pagan festivals that typically took place during this time.
Fun fact: when the Pope first instituted Christmas as a holiday, the occasion was actually called ‘the Feast of the Nativity’.
The custom spread to Egypt in the year 432, England by the end of the sixth century, and all the way to Scandinavia by the end of the eighth.
Seventeenth to Nineteenth Century Christmas
Early Christmas celebrations in the Middle Ages were lively, raucous affairs; much like Mardi Gras is today. Although this started to change when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces cancelled Christmas in England in 1645, as part of his vow to rid England of decadence. This was short lived as Charles II was restored to the throne and quickly revived the holiday.
Boston also had Christmas outlawed between 1659 and 1681; with anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit fined five shillings. In fact, America was actually quite slow to pick-up Christmas as a holiday, as English customs quickly fell out of favour after the American Revolution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday in the states until June 26, 1870.
In Australia, however, Australian-style holiday celebrations occurred shortly after the first settlement in 1788, with settlers collecting and decorating native shrubbery and playing outdoor sports.
Modern Festivities Across the World
Today, the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches observe Christmas 13 days after December 25, in a celebration that’s commonly referred to as Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is because they believe that this is the day the three wise men found Jesus in the manger.
For the most part, Christmas Day is celebrated with festive decorations, large quantities of rich foods, presents and carolling. Non-religious people and religious people alike often celebrate Christmas, with the faithful attending midnight mass or morning church services.
To make your Christmas celebration a little brighter and more decorative, talk to Tudor House about our festive bunting and flags – the perfect addition to any collection of Christmas decorations.
You can call us on (08) 9470 2717 or submit one of our online enquiry forms.