Tradition of Christmas
The tradition of Christmas has a long history dating back almost 4000 years. While many of these older traditions faintly resemble the modern Christmas celebration, these early traditions helped lay the ground work for the holiday of Christmas as we know it today. While the modern holiday of Christmas is based primarily from the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth 2000 years ago, many of the most common Christmas traditions were actually started well before he was born. For example, the 12 days of Christmas, the Yule log, giving of gifts, carolers, holiday feasts, and the burning of bright fires can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.
Early Roots of Christmas
Many of the most common Christmas traditions actually have their origins dating back to the celebration of the Mesopotamian New Year. Each year as winter arrived the Mesopotamians believed that their chief god Marduk would do battle with the forces of evil and chaos in the world. To assist their god, the Mesopotamians would hold a festival that lasted for 12 days. The Persians and Babylonians created similar festivals that included the exchanging of places within society, where the slaves would become masters and the masters would become the slaves.
However, it wasn’t until the Romans that many of the modern Christmas traditions started to take shape. Every year on December 25th, the upper class of Rome would celebrate the birthday of the infant God Mithra, the infant God of the unconquerable sun. This was the most sanctified day of the entire year for Romans where they would exchange presents, visit the homes of relatives, deck the halls with garlands, decorate green trees with candles, and have large feasts, just like the large Christmas dinners we have today.
How Modern Christmas Took Shape
But as Christianity began to spread around Europe in the early part of 4th century, many early Christians were alarmed by the continuing celebration of these earlier December pagan traditions. But because these celebrations were so popular, instead of eradicating them completely, the early Christians instead created their own holiday, Christmas, dedicated to the birth of Christ of December 25th. The Church then took the lights, gift giving, feasts, and tree lighting from these earlier traditions and adapted them to the celebration of Christmas.
The Christmas that we know today, symbolized with Santa Claus, the North Pole, flying reindeer and Christmas lights, is a fairly recent development. The idea of Santa Claus mainly comes from the old Dutch tradition of “Sinterklass”, better known as Saint Nick. Saint Nicholas was a great man who is noted for his selflessness and generosity and would reward children with presents if they behaved well and did their studies. From this tradition was created the modern Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and rewards good children with presents every December 25th. It is said that Saint Nicholas never really died but instead moved to the North Pole where he still rewards good boys and girls every Christmas Eve.