Christmas today and Christmas yesterday are as different as day and night.
The precursor of today’s Christmas is rooted in paganism. Paganism involving debauchery, drinking, rape, murder, and anti-Semitism. Paganism that preceded the birth of Christ by centuries.
The early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. No one was even sure if December 25 was the day Jesus was born.
Roman pagans celebrated the earliest event. A week-long party. Ended on December 25. Where the forces of darkness prevailed. Sex, food and drink in abundance. Many murders, for the fun of it.
The Greeks enjoyed a holiday made famous in Lucian’s Saturnalia. More despicable. In addition to drinking, rape and sexual license, human sacrifice.
Saturnalia is the predecessor of Christmas.
The Catholic Church wanted to convert the pagans. Actually, the Catholic Church wanted to increase its numbers. The Church offered the pagans a deal. You join us and you can still celebrate all those Saturnalia things you are accustomed to doing. The pagans agreed and the Saturnalia Carnival came into being.
The Catholic Church participated in and permitted Jews to be ridiculed and suffer. Pope Paul II was head of the Catholic Church in 1466. Part of the celebration involved Jews being force-fed/overfed and then compelled to run along the streets of Rome. Difficult with a full belly. People pelted the Jews with rotten fruit, vegetables and stones. The Pope reportedly watched and laughed.
The Saturnalia Carnival continues through the 18th and 19th centuries. Relatively recent times. Jews continued to be persecuted. They were murdered, women raped, their property destroyed. Rabbis were made to don clownish attire and run the streets. While running, they were jeered and pelted.
Jews asked the Papacy to stop such activities. Pope Gregory XVI refused.
Many of today’s Christmas customs find their origins in the pagan celebrations.
The Christmas tree is one. Pagans for whatever reason worshiped trees in the forest. Eventually, the trees found their way into pagan homes and were decorated.
The mistletoe. Kiss me under the mistletoe. Druids used the mistletoe to poison human sacrificial victims. Norse mythology spoke of two Gods fighting over the female Wanna. The two synthesized to become reflective of the sexual lives of Saturnalia and the Druid’s sacrificial cult.
Christmas presents. In pre-Christian Rome, emperors compelled Rome’s most despised citizens to bring offerings and gifts during Saturnalia. With the advent of Christianity, the Catholic Church gave gift giving a Christian flavor by bringing St. Nicholas into the picture.
St. Nicholas initially was a combination of good and evil.
St. Nicholas himself was saintly. Of Turkish origin. Died in the mid 300s AD. In 1087 AD, his bones were moved from Turkey to Bari, Italy. He was interred in the burial-place of a traditional Italian woman who had been famous for bringing gifts to children on December 6. St. Nicholas assumed her gift giving qualities merely by burial in her place.
The Catholic Church pushed the pagans to adopt St. Nicholas. Such began gift giving in what finally became Christmas.
Santa Claus as he is visualized today in his bright red clothes and rosy cheeks can be attributed to Coca Cola. In 1931, Coke wanted a “Coke Drinking Santa.” Coke ordered its advertisers to give them such. The result is the Santa Claus of today.
Christmas today is the combination of Christian carnival, pagan gods and a modern-day commercial.
As to America itself, let’s see how the preceding played out. Starting with the first settlers, the Puritans.
On this wonderful Christmas Day 2015, most of us will be sitting back happy with ourselves. In a joyous festive mood. Thankful for family and friends. Pleased by gifts and food.
And we might believe that Christmas in the United States has always been such. That Christmas as we know it always existed.
Shockingly, it did not!
We start with the Puritans. Those hearty immigrants from England to the shores of Massachusetts. Those who gave us Thanksgiving.
Christmas they did not give us. In fact, they took Christmas away from us. The earliest Scrooges of record!
From 1659 to 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. By the Puritans. They believed that Christmas was not consistent with their Puritan ideas and religious reforms. So they abolished Christmas!
The Puritans were descendant from the Reformation. Certain Protestant groups opposed Christmas celebrations. They firmly believed the holiday was rooted in paganism. It was. Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in England.
Christmas remained a no no through the American Revolution. The English influence in the colonies prevailed. Christmas could not gain a foothold.
A few years after the Revolution, the colonists, rid of English influence, started celebrating Christmas. But it was not Christmas as we know it.
The early 1800s found Christmas being celebrated in a bit of a rowdy fashion. Much like Mardi Gras and Fantasy Fest.
Then came a couple of books which influenced the situation.
The first was by Washington Irving. In 1809, he wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. It portrayed Christmas as a peaceful loving holiday. Many attribute Irving’s novel as setting the mood for present day Christmas.
Irving actually created with words Christmas Day as we know and celebrate it. He mentally conceived his concept of Christmas and wrote it on paper. Christmas to that point had not been as he portrayed it.
About the same time, there was another writing. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This, too, captured the American imagination.
During the 1830s, several southern states legalized December 25 Christmas Day as a holiday. The first was Alabama in 1836.
The South continued to favor and celebrate Christmas up to the time of the Civil War. Whereas, the North basically paid little attention to the day. Christmas had become a Southern thing.
Now comes the Civil War. Lincoln wanted to demoralize the Confederate troops. He wanted to show that the South’s Santa Claus was on the side of the North. He authorized a famous artist late in 1862 to do a drawing of Santa Claus watching over Union troops. The picture was the front cover on January 3, 1863 of a prominent national magazine. It was sort of God is on our side thing. Some believe it achieved Lincoln’s desired effect.
President Ulysses S. Grant is given credit for making Christmas a national holiday. I question the accuracy of the representation. In 1870, Grant signed a bill into law regarding Christmas Day. The new law read that Christmas “…shall be a holiday within the District of Columbia.” The District of Columbia is not the whole of the United States. However, Grant is usually given credit for making Christmas a national holiday by that act.
The last state to legalize Christmas as a legal holiday was Oklahoma in 1907.
I suspect that it was the combination of Grant’s signing regarding the District of Columbia and all of the states legalizing the holiday that finally made Christmas Day a national holiday.
Christmas Day received a further boost by the 1897 editorial in the Sun of New York. We all know it. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Christmas was practiced and recognized as a holiday through World War II. For whatever reason, it received its most gigantic step forward recognition and celebration wise following World War II. Everyone got into the act after the war! Maybe because people were happy and grateful to have won.
Such is the story of Christmas and especially America’s Christmas from its earliest times to today.