The Christmas season is upon us once again along with the hustle and bustle of shopping to choose just the right gift, the wrapping, the baking, all the decorating, and all the parties to attend. The months and weeks it takes to prepare for a Merry Christmas celebration. But have you ever thought about how Christmas began?
This celebration began approximately 10,000 years ago, long before the birth of Christ or Christianity, by Pagans all over Europe and Rome, celebrating the Winter Solstice on December 25th, or known as Saturnalia. This was a week long celebration of singing, dancing, feasting, gift giving, and adorning trees and their homes with tree boughs and various sprigs and berries.
In an effort to diminish Paganism, the early Christians declared December 25th as the day of Christ’s birth, although it’s unknown the exact month or day of His birth, therefore both Christian and Pagan traditions merged together to how we now celebrate the season.
Santa Claus or first known as Saint Nicolas was a Christian bishop who provided for the poor and sick, and is the basis for the popular character of Santa Claus. Born in Patara, a land that is part of present-day Turkey, circa 280, St. Nicholas being a Christian bishop helped the needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew.
Several sources state St. Nicholas is believed to have died on December 6, 343. Over the years, stories of his miracles and work for the poor spread to other parts of the world. He became known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift-giving. He was a popular saint in Europe until the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, a religious movement that led to the creation of Protestantism, which turned away from the practice of honoring saints. The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6. It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname Sinter Klaas, and his gift-giving ways to America in the 1700s.
In America, St. Nicholas went through many transformations and eventually Sinter Klaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of the Christmas holiday of December 25th. In the 1820 poem “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, better known as, “The Night Before Christmas”, he is described as a jolly, heavy man who comes down the chimney to leave presents for deserving children and drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
Thomas Nast is credited with creating our popular image of Santa Claus utilizing Clement Clarke Moore’s description and bringing Santa Claus to how we recognize him as today.
This is a very early Nast drawing of Santa Claus created in 1865. This is a nice detailed drawing of Santa Claus, and you can see that he has not changed much in the last 140 years.
So our Christmas of today is a combination of Pagan celebration traditions, Christian teachings, poetry and art, and legends of the real Saint Nicholas.
I hope you enjoyed this time travel of Christmas throughout history, and have a Very Merry Christmas as well.