Slide 3 -
3 History of Christmas
In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.
The earliest English reference to December 25th as Christmas Day did not come until 1043.
The Christians had by then appropriated many pagan festivals and traditions of the season, that were practiced in many parts of the Middle East and Europe, as a means of stamping them out.
There were mid-winter festivals in many countries that also took place at this time.
The birth of the ancient sun-god Attis in Phrygia was celebrated on December 25th,
The birth of the Persian sun-god, Mithras was celebrated on 25th of December and was observed on the shortest day of the year. This time was called Yule. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty, that ran from the 17th to 24th of December. Public gathering places were decorated with flowers, gifts and candles were exchanged and the population, slaves and masters alike, celebrated the occasion with great enthusiasm.
In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule contributed another impetus to celebration, as opposed to spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the opportunity of enjoying the Summer's bounty encouraged much feasting and merriment.
The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating their homes and altars.
In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.
Christmas was slow to catch on in America. The early colonists considered it a pagan ritual. The celebration of Christmas was even banned by law in Massachusetts in colonial days.
Christmas (Christ-Mass) as we know it today, most historians agree, began in Germany, though Catholics and Lutherans still disagree about which church celebrated it first. The earliest record of an evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany. A prominent Lutheran minister of the day cried blasphemy: “Better that they should look to the true tree of life, Christ.”