In the oldest, darkest of Ancient Times, there existed a period of great celebration stretching from around late December to the first days of January, known to the pagans and druids of the cold and icy North.
There are no great sources for what occurred in this festival, but we do know that it involved burning logs/wood to light up the forests, possible chanting and rituals beneath mistletoe. The light given from fire was extremely important to pagans as it was a sign that the sun god was still looking after them and allowing them light. It gave them hope of the bright season to come.
December, the month midway through the cold season, was greatly celebrated as it marked the point at which the days would begin to get longer and the nights shorter. In some cases, it also had relations to alignments of the stars.
Meanwhile, the Romans were feasting and giving gifts as part of their festival of Saturnalia, dedicated to the God Saturn. It was when, after the birth and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that the early Christians observed these Roman celebrations and thought about modifying them for their own purposes.
Constantine made Christianity legal to worship in the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Saxons brought the new religion to the northern frontiers like Britain and Scandinavia where the pagans were already eating, drinking and making merry as part of Winter Solstice. As they converted, the two religions more or less mixed, resulting in a Christian festival that came to be known as Christmas, and many of the ancient traditions passing over into the worship of Christ during the Middle Ages.
During Medieval Times, Christmas was an extremely important part of high social culture, with Kings, particularly in England and large European nations, holding elaborate feasts for multiple days.
But you must remember that not everyone was feeling festive in the Middle Ages – particularly as many of the winter rituals were still considered pagan. Carol singing actually originated as a drunken riot with waisailers travelling from door to door calling for more drink.
This was also when Mince Pies became popular. Cooks would cut up different kinds of meat and mix them in a pie with fruits and vegetables.
Christmas Dinner switched up a level with the introduction of the roasted turkey to Europe in the 16th century.
During the early 19th century, Christmas celebrations declined in popularity, but were swiftly brought back with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which told a heartfelt and moral lesson to those people which were chained down by money-making.
As for Christmas Crackers, it is hard to be certain who first designed the candy-shaped papers and used the explosive chemical, but we do know that they appeared in the 1840s.
It’s Christmas Eve, and I don’t want to bog you down with a fact dense article, so this was something short to expand your knowledge about some bits of the history of Christmas. I hope you learnt something! And have a very merry Christmas! Thanks to everyone who has supported the blog.
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