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About Christmas

About Christmas
December 25th rolls around every year and the celebration kicks into high gear – presents are torn open, a massive feast is prepared, and families gather to enjoy each other’s company. The cycle is predictable: we shop, we wrap, we travel, we get burned out and need a few days to recover. At some point, we inevitably ask, “Why do we get so worked up about Christmas?”

Historically, a long line of festivals have occurred during that time of year and, after the promotion of Christianity to state religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, the stage was set for Christmas to become the primary holiday for much of the Western world. In the early days of the faith, adherents often took advantage of large pagan holidays to celebrate important events of their own. When the Edict of Milan officially carried out Constantine’s orders, what had once been a vast public carnival to honor the Winter Solstice transformed into a way to commemorate Jesus’ birth.

As the influence of the Catholic Church expanded following the fall of Rome, Christmas took on new traditions. Unique cultural customs developed from the foundation of celebrating Jesus’ arrival, giving us well-recognized decorations like the Christmas tree and boughs of holly. No custom changed the holiday more than the act of presenting a loved one with a gift. Over the years, what began in the Middle Ages as a way to replicate the offerings made by the Three Wise Men became the central focus for many families.

During the Victorian era and into the early 20th century, families began to be more expressive in what they decided to give each other. The British, during the late-1800s, created elaborate games built around everyone finding this special present. Parents would wrap the gifts and hide them in the house, then string colorful pieces of yarn through the house back to a starting point from which the children would begin the hunt. This crossed over to the United States to some extent, but it was nowhere near as popular as the idea of Father Christmas – who would gain some weight and be renamed Santa Claus when he arrived in America.

In the post-World War II period, the Jolly Old Elf would grow as a non-religious symbol of generosity in the minds of many cultures. Fueled by the strength of a massive marketing push, the emphasis of Christian origins diminished for the sake of consumer activity. The fun of shopping and socializing became more important, leading many to believe the most extravagant gifts are best.

Recent times have seen the beginnings of a public backlash, though. Tired of the hassle associated with hours waiting in lines at crowded malls, people are beginning to reclaim the spirit of hope, joy, and togetherness. What was once a celebration of buying power is now an opportunity to gather with friends and family baking cookies, enjoying a delicious meal, or singing carols. Instead of spending excessive amounts of money on lavish presents, they are donating time and money to worthy charities as a way to spread kindness.

Whatever you decide to do, take time to be merry and enjoy the company of those you care about most. It may not be the exact reason for the season, but there is nothing better than celebrating the mutual affection you have.

After weeks of hard work shopping for presents and preparing food, attending parties and visiting family, it seems like we forget about Christmas as anything more than the busiest season of the year. The gifts are ripped open and the food is eaten, but by December 25th almost everyone is worn out and hoping to escape to an island for a week or two. But, really, what’s the history behind the dominant holiday for much of the Western world?

For thousands of years, numerous festivals in a variety of cultures were scheduled around the time of year we now know as late December. During this season, the cultures of Europe are under bleak gray skies, giving them cause to celebrate when the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year – arrives. In Roman times, both within the empire and further out into the lawless barbarian lands, large feasts greeted the turn toward warmer temperatures and coming rebirth of the spring months. For early Christians, who would have commemorated Jesus’ birth under the guise of engaging in pagan ceremonies until Constantine, there was an opportunity to use large public gatherings for ministry after the faith became the state religion in 312 AD.

With the Roman Empire disintegrating in the 6th century, the Catholic Church stepped into the breach as the influential power in Europe. As once-pagan tribes assimilated their traditions into those of the religious institution, unique regional customs began to celebrate the Nativity. The Christmas tree and boughs of holly, for example, were hardy symbols of life enduring the barren cold – items given new meaning by the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. No tradition, though, changed the holiday more than presenting gifts to family and friends. What began during the medieval period as a way to remind others of the Three Wise Men turned into the focus of the holiday for many over the centuries – for better or worse.

In the middle of the 19th century and on into the 20th, the culture of Victorian Britain led may families to become more dramatic with their presents. Traditions took root that created an extra element of fun on Christmas Day – gifts would be wrapped and hidden within the house, then colorful pieces of yarn would be strung from room to room as a trail to be followed by the recipient. Only the idea of Father Christmas gained more steam when these customs crossed the Atlantic and landed in the United States. (Santa Claus, as Americans call him, gained a significant amount of weight compared to his counterpart on the British Isles.)

When the Baby Boom hit after the second World War, the Jolly Old Elf blossomed as a secular symbol of charity and giving in many cultures. Driven by a huge push from the marketing geniuses on Madison Avenue, the back story of Christianity was marginalized in favor of consumer activity. Finding the sought-after toys and best prices took center stage, leading many to believe extravagant gifts are the only way to go.

In recent years, the early stages of a turn the other direction have begun to take root. Fed up with the crowded malls and credit card debt, people are beginning to put the spotlight on hope and joy. Instead of spending hundreds on opulent gifts, they are working with worthy charities to spread compassion. What was became an opportunity to go nuts as a consumer is once again about gathering with friends and family to enjoy a great meal and sing carols. After all, the merriment of great company is one of the most precious gifts we can offer those we hold dear.

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Last Updated :- 23 December, 2011

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