Wednesday, December 23, 2020 Ayesha Hawkins

The way Christmas is celebrated in the United States of America in the current time has its roots in ancient Rome. Although historically there were many winter and December holidays and pagan celebrations, the December 25th date comes from when the Romans celebrated a festival called the Saturnalia (during which people feasted and exchanged gifts) that celebrated the Sun. It was also the birthday of the Indo-European deity Mithra, a god of light and loyalty. Once the emperor Constantine made Christianity the major religion of the Roman Empire in 336 A.D. the celebration switched to celebrate the Son of God. However, many still felt Epiphany or Three Kings Day on January 6th was a more appropriate date, however by the 9th century the 25th of December was widely accepted as the day when most Christians celebrated the birth of Christ.

In the United States of America (USA), Christmas is both a religious and secular holiday. In England and then in the British Colonies in the 17th century celebrating Christmas was looked down upon in Boston, MA for example it was outlawed from 1659-1681 and then once the USA was no longer under British rule Christmas in the USA fell out of favor. In some parts of the USA, Louisiana for example celebrated Twelfth Night, which starts with Christmas Day and ends with Epiphany and it was more populated by wild parties and masquerade balls often what those in the U.S. equate with Mardi Gras.  It was not until the 19th when author Washington Irving wrote his 1819 work “The Sketchbook of Geffrey Crayon, gent., that the holiday that we now see started to take shape.

After several states, starting with Louisiana in 1837 started to make Christmas a holiday, U.S. President Ulysses Grant made Christmas a federal holiday in 1870. It is thought that in part it was to help heal the nation after the Civil War. Many of the holiday traditions that are trappings of a U.S. Christmas were brought to the USA via immigrants. The Christmas Tree is a German tradition with the first U.S. Christmas tree lot opening in the U.S. in New York in 1851. Christmas cards are from England with the first one debuting with an envelope in 1915.  Poinsettia made its way from Mexico to the U.S. in 1828.  No article on Christmas in the USA would be complete without a mention of Santa Claus, who is based on a Turkish born Saint Nicholas, in the Catholic tradition the patron saint of children.


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