Christmas is a weird tradition if we really think about it. Santa Claus, reindeer, pine trees, where does it all come from? The answer for this is very complex as no one can pinpoint a single origin for the Christmas holiday. We know some things like that it celebrates the birth of Jesus, but last time I checked baby Jesus was not around a pine tree when he was born. So, where do all those other things that we recognize as Christmas come from? To answer this we must take a deep dive through history.
The start of it all is the birth of Jesus. In a way, Jesus was the first kid to receive Christmas gifts, not by a bearded guy, but by wise men who came on camels. The child was a miracle, born of a virgin mother. He grew up to change the world and establish a following that would spread His message to the world. Eventually, Christ’s message spread even to the Roman empire when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD. This event was very important in the development of Christmas because the Romans had a certain holiday called Saturnalia which happened in December and was celebrated by exchanging gifts.
Gift giving at this time of year was already a pretty big tradition way after the birth of Christ. For the Romans, the end of the year festivities were one of the most beloved times of the year because of the carefree atmosphere, generous gift-giving, and lavish entertainments. Because of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity all those pagan holidays had to go.The theory is that Christmas was formed as a way to replace the old Saturnalia tradition that the Romans cared for a lot. Instead of being a celebration of a pagan God, the new holiday Christmas was going to be a celebration of Jesus’s birth.
An influential figure in the formation of gift-giving as a Christmas tradition was Nikolaos of Myra in the 4th century. He was famous for his willingness to give gifts to people. Thanks to his life he was venerated as a saint and became Saint Nicholas, the more recognizable version of his name. The legend of Saint Nicholas and the Romans’ traditions of gift giving spread and evolved over time and created what is now Christmas.
Nikolaus of Myra
Many of the Christmas staples that we know and love originate from drastically different backgrounds. The decorating of a pine tree comes from a Scandinavian tradition, the fireworks come from Chinese New Year’s traditions, and the image of Santa that is most recognizable today ( red costume and white beard) comes from Coca-Cola.