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Is Christmas Really a Children's Holiday?

The family-friendly holiday you always knew has a dark history that wasn't geared toward kids

With all the elves and reindeer running around, children and families everywhere are counting down the days till they can finally unwrap those Christmas presents. With holiday albums flying off the shelves and the consumption of eggnog reaching an all time high, the commercial industry is in full force. Trying to meet the consumer demand for Christmas trees, fire logs, and hot chocolate is a lot of work, but big companies are cashing in on these essential items for those special holiday traditions.

Christmas is widely known as THE family holiday, with it’s main emphasis on the innocence of children. With some families’ Christmas traditions going back generations, many little one’s may wonder how this whole holiday started. A quick look into the history Christmas may surprise you in it’s extremely adult nature and gives insight as to why we eat, drink, and party during this “most wonder time of the year”.

Long before people had ever heard of the names of Santa or Jesus, Scandinavians celebrated winter solstice from the end of December into January. The Norse would set a large log on fire and celebrate until in burned out. Like the Norse, Europeans would feast and rejoice over their survival through the hardest parts of winter. With a surplus of fresh meat and perfectly fermented alcohols, these winter celebrations are the earliest origins of America’s holiday parties around this time of year.
Christmas Kid

Some of these parties turned into a time of worship as many different people groups began honoring gods during the winter months. The Germans, for example, honored Oden (sometimes referred to as Odin) a god of wrath and war. The people in Germany would hide from this fear-inspiring god because they believed that he chose their fates; prosperity or peril.

The Romans would observe a special holiday to honor the god of agriculture; Saturn. During Saturnalia, the people would switch the social order by letting peasants control the city. Some of the highest class citizens of Rome would also celebrate the birthday of one or their favorite gods, Mithra. Another feast enjoyed around winter solstice was the celebration of Juvenalia; the Children of Rome.

Moving forward a few years brings us to the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s society, December 25th is the day Christians everywhere celebrate Jesus’ birth as the Son of God, coming to save sinners from eternal separation from him in Heaven. Yet, the early church didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ, because it was viewed as less important than Jesus’ death and resurrection, celebrated at Easter.

In the Fourth Century, Pope Julius I chose the 25th as a day to celebrate and recognise the importance of the birth of Christ. The church has since received much opposition about the choice of this date because the Bible doesn’t specifically specify when Jesus was born. Many believe the church chose the December date in order to absorb the traditions of the many pagan celebrations around winter solstice, for indeed this was accomplished.

Originally called the Feast of the Nativity, the church’s celebration of their savior’s birth looked strikingly similar to previous winter holidays, with feasting and drinking. By the Middle Ages, the parties had exploded into a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere. Similar to Saturnalia, a poor person would be elected to the illustrious title of “Lord of Misrule” and demand richer persons to quench the feast and alcoholic desires of the lower class, with threats of mischief and terror if they refused.

By the time the pilgrims landed on North American soil, there was quite a division among church about the partying. The Puritan beliefs of the English separatists in America actually outlawed anything having to do with Christmas because of it’s “sinful nature”. Those found guilty of being touched with “Christmas spirit” paid a fine of 5 shillings for their unacceptable behavior. In comparison, the famed Captain John Smith relayed that Christmas was celebrated and enjoyed by those in the Jamestown Settlement.

Still it wasn’t until the Nineteenth Century, around the time Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, that the spirit of Christmas was redeemed. Just as the story entails, our society also slowly changed it’s view of the holiday to be one of charity and compassion.

America has adopted it’s many traditions from other cultural customs and completely revamped their meaning to fit their growing nation. Decorating Christmas trees came from a German tradition. British students and Sir Henry Cole are the source of sending Christmas cards. Gift giving can be traced back to the story of Jesus’ birth.

We celebrate Christmas in many different ways, but the emphasis has slightly changed. Nowadays, it is just as easy to find people feeding the hungry and doing other charitable work as it is to find a Christmas party full of food and alcohol. Regardless of your moral, physical, or spiritual state, knowing the history of these famed traditions can be a real eye-opener. With that said, the question still remains; Is Christmas really a children’s holiday?


Lindagal December 18th, 2010 9:36 am ET
Thanks so much for the article - so interesting to read the history. To me it doesn't matter the actual day of Jesus' birth but rather, that we commemorate it. Whether celebrating lights or The Light (of Jesus), to me it's all about coming together: sharing our bounty during the long dark months when things look bleak and sharing our love with our families and neighbors. Light often means warmth ... and it's so lovely that the coldest days bring us such warmth from one another. ;)

faith December 18th, 2010 7:48 pm ET
Thank you for this post! We chose a few years ago not to celebrate Christmas with the trees, presents, etc. It was hard at first, but harder for my heart to comprehend celebrating something that isn't biblical but puts Christ's name in there. Our Lord's birth should be celebrated everyday. We have many that celebrate this that are not even believers in Christ. Digging deeper into history you it tells more about the pagan holiday. It doesn't bother me in the least bit that others celebrate it and when asked by friends why we don't , I ask them to go and research the history of Christmas themselves. It's just very sad when people find out that we don't celebrate Christmas, that automatically say, "I'm sorry," or "Do you not believe in Christ?" and my all time favorite, "Are you a Jew?"

Johnnie December 22nd, 2010 1:25 pm ET
Christmas is for everyone that believes in Santa Cluase, I belive in Santa cluase, I have no job no money to buy my grandkids any christmas presents. But we have each other, and it is Jesus brithday. My grand kids understand this money problem we are having right now. And I known we have people out there that do not believe in God, do not believe in Santa Cluase. The only thing I can say to them Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Vancouver Wa.

nini1919 December 24th, 2010 0:58 am ET
I agree with you faith! People always want to know if I'm jehovahs witness. I tell them 'no, I'm a christian. I real bible believing christian.' Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with jesus. Santa claus is a lie. Christmas trees are pagan. The so called 'spirit of christmas is a lie because people are only on their best behavior till after new years. Jesus wasn't even born on this date. I really think christmas is bogus and commercialized. I don't like the fact that I have to be subject to all the lights and music and rhetoric in every public place I go for 2 whole months while thanksgiving is completely passed up. I believe in celebratings jesus every day. Being kind every day. I see no reason to celebrate christmas when God specifically said no other gods before him. People can call me whatever they like but I just say 'I'm sorry, I actually would like to live the way I believe and not pretend.' Its all a lie.

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