Christmas is here! If you celebrate
Christmas, what are your traditions on this day? How do your
relatives and friends celebrate the holiday? By going to church?
Decorating a Christmas tree? Exchanging presents? Singing and
dancing? Eating massive amounts of turkey or pie?
December 25, people around the world celebrate the birth of
Jesus Christ. Some people celebrate by giving gifts. Children
may be thanking Santa Claus for new toys. They may also be going
to church with their families. Christmas has so many traditions
and symbols associated with it, that it's hard to determine
exactly how it came to be the celebration it is today.
By 336 A.D., the Christian church in Rome celebrated the
festival of Christmas on December 25. The same day, Romans
celebrated Saturnalia, the winter solstice (the shortest day of
the year). In observance of the "birthday of the unconquered
sun," they exchanged gifts and made merry with a festival. On
the Roman New Year (January 1), people decorated houses with
greenery and gave gifts to children and the poor. Evergreens
were a symbol of survival.
Modern-day Christmas borrows
many of these traditions. St. Nicholas became a popular figure
by the 11th century, known for his great generosity and healing
powers. With the rise of the Protestant Church, he was nearly
forgotten, except in the Netherlands, where they called him
Sinterklaas. Does that name sound familiar?
colonists settling in New Amsterdam (now New York City) brought
the story of St. Nicholas with them. In English, he became known
as Santa Claus. Added to the legend of this kind old man were
old Nordic folk tales of a magician who punished naughty
children and rewarded good children with presents. The Santa
Claus we recognize in the U.S. today, with his red suit, jolly
laugh, and long white beard, began to appear in story and song
in the 19th century. But every family has their own unique
traditions for the holiday as well.
Alan Wallace of
Massachusetts, who was a boy at the end of the 19th century,
used to gather seashells from the shore in the summertime to
make into Christmas presents. Margaret Davis of Georgia, said
her family ate, danced, and went to parties all week long in the
1890s. Some children write letters to Santa at the North Pole
asking for things they want. Some leave milk and cookies out for
St. Nick the night before. Some families attend morning mass,
while others gather around a Christmas tree to open brightly
wrapped boxes. What do you or your friends do to celebrate
Christmas in your own special way? Happy Holidays!