The Origins of Christmas in America
By: Temple Display
The Early Beginning of Winter Celebrations
The middle of winter has been celebrated across Europe for centuries. Before the birth of Christ, people celebrated the winter solstice. Meaning that the worst of winter was now over. They also celebrated having an abundance of fresh meat, plenty of wine and beer, as well as a time of rest indoors.
Though we are not 100% certain if Jesus was born on December 25th, Pope Julius I chose December 25th to be the date that Christians observe as the birth of Christ. By then end of the sixth century the custom of celebrating Christmas had spread to England.
The Puritans Cancel Christmas
Jump to early 17th century England. It is now 1645, Oliver Cromwell and Puritan forces have taken over England. The Puritans were sick of the overly self-indulgent ways of the English that they vowed to rid England of its decadence. Therein abolishing Christmas. After some time, Charles II regained his right to the throne and brought back the celebration of Christmas to England.
As of 1620 the English separatists, better known as the pilgrims, head to America. These pilgrims were mostly Puritans seeking religious freedom in a new land. They were even more devout in their beliefs than even Oliver Cromwell and his followers. Making Christmas not a holiday celebrated by most Americans in the early years of our county.
Immigrants Celebrate Christmas in America
By the early 1700s people from all over Europe were coming to America and venturing farther west. Needless to say, most of these immigrants were not Puritans and continued to carry on the traditions of their homelands, including Christmas. A large population of Germans settled in Pennsylvania. In Germany the celebration of Christmas was extremely popular. The Germans are said to be the first to decorate Christmas Trees and create Nativity scenes.
The Reinvention of Christmas in America
In 1819 an American writer, Washington Irving, wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. This book describes a wealthy British landowner who invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate Christmas. The landowner recreates a traditional Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the distant past. This had an overwhelming effect on the American people due to the social unrest in the country at the time. Many people were unemployed and gang rioting, was more often than not, occurring during what would be the holiday season.
How Christmas in America Became the Holiday it is Today
By the 20th century people began using electric lights instead of candles to decorate. Cards, ornaments, stocking stuffers, and the coolest new toys are being mass produced during the holiday season.
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