The History of Christmas

by Jason Campbell, Nov 2018

Joyeux Noël! Forehliche Weihnachten! Hyvää Joulua! Or as we would usually say in English, Merry Christmas!

The fact that this can be said in French, German, Finnish and many more languages should tell you that Christmas is a widespread and beloved holiday in a multitude of different cultures and countries with a long and interesting history.

Christmas is traditionally seen as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, millions of non-Christians also celebrate the holiday. The Western Christian Church set the official date of Christmas as the 25th of December on the Gregorian in the early to mid 4th century. Many Eastern Christian churches actually celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, as this corresponds with the 25th of December on the older Julian calendar.

The earliest celebration of Christmas was recorded in a manuscript compiled in Rome and the feast that we know as Christmas Dinner was first introduced in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 379 AD and in the ancient Greek city of Antioch in about 388 AD.

Most of the customs and traditions many of us partake in were first introduced without any regard for the holiday as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus, which is why it is hard today to call Christmas an exclusively Christian holiday. It has in some ways transcended its religious dimension in favour of a more inclusive and commercial angle.

December to January celebrations have actually been commonplace for hundreds of years before Christianity even came into existence. Pagans used to have a holiday around the same time, due to the limit on agricultural productivity that winter brought with it. Probably the most famous of these holidays is Yule.

The middle ages saw Christmas evolve into more of a raucous and drunken celebration, with the gift giving taking place on New Years Day.

The victory of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War saw Christmas being banned in the UK by Puritans in 1647. Pro-Christmas riots broke out and the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 saw the holiday legalised again.

Coming into the 18th century, writers such as Charles Dickens helped popularise the notion of ‘Christmas Spirit’ with his timeless literature, such as ‘A Christmas Carol’. This helped Christmas become the more family-friendly and child-oriented holiday we view it as today.

Interestingly, Hong Kong and Macau in China do celebrate Christmas, despite the holiday not being formally recognised. This is because the former was a colony of the British Empire and the latter a colony of Portugal, meaning both these areas maintain a great deal of European influence.

Today, around 160 sovereign nations officially celebrate Christmas, demonstrating to us how well known and inclusive it is. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, we at Well Polished hope you have a lovely holiday season with your family and friends!