Christmas is a celebration with a long and varied history. Along with Easter, Christmas is the central holiday for a majority of Christians.
Christmas has been celebrated according to various customs that are often influenced by local tradition.
Information sourced from the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore
History and tradition:
- Traditionally Christmas is the celebration of the nativity of Jesus Christ by Christians.
- In Christian theology, the nativity is the beginning of humanity’s salvation and when divinity took human form.
- The date of Christ’s birth is not explicitly recorded in scripture. Several dates were debated by the early church.
- The first documented celebration of Christmas on December 25th is in a Roman calendar in 354 AD
- The Early Christian church celebrated it on January 6th (Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate January 6th as the epiphany and the 7th as Christmas)
- The origin of Santa Claus can be traced to the Christian Saint Nicholas who was a Greek Bishop in the third century. His feast day is the 19th of December.
Celebration in England:
- The word “Christmas”, a portmanteau of “Christ’s mass” first appeared in the English language record in an Old English chronicle in 1101 AD
- Before this the festive season was referenced to as “Yule”
- Christmas as we know it today was “reinvented” in the second half of the 19th century by the Victorians
- Writers like Charles Dickens and Washington Irving helped popularize certain elements of the holiday
- Washington Irving (who also created the headless horseman) was the first to popularize the image of Santa flying on a sleigh with reindeer
- Native English elements like the Yule log, carolling, holly and mistletoe were combined with imports or inventions.
- Gift-giving was a German custom that first appeared in the English written record in an 1821 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine
- Christmas lights originated in upper-class German homes in the 18th century and were later adopted in the UK
Arrival in North America and popular culture:
- Originally Americans rejected the tradition of Santa Claus but it was again reintroduced by Dutch settlers
- Santa Claus was originally called “Father Christmas” in England, it was the Americans who changed the name to “Santa Claus” as to avoid being too English
- Many of the famous Christmas characters popular today were created in American popular culture
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was invented by American author Robert L. May in his book “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939 to advertise for Montgomery Ward a mail order and department store, originally Rudolph didn’t have a red nose because this was associated with alcoholism
- Frosty the Snowman originated in the popular song written by Walter “Jack” Rollins in 1950.
Some Canadian facts and numbers:
- Canada exported $43 million in Christmas trees to the rest of the world in 2016 (that’s nearly 2 million Christmas trees)
- 41% of households reported using Christmas lights in 2014
- December is the best-selling month for candy, confectionery and snack foods
- There is a town in Nova Scotia named Christmas Island
- Every year Halifax sends Boston a Christmas tree as thanks for the city’s aid in the aftermath of the Halifax explosion in 1917 which destroyed most of the city