As we take the day off to celebrate with our families, here is a bit ‘O Christmas history for your enlightenment…
Christmas as we know it, with gift giving, a Christmas tree, the birth of Christ and Santa Claus, was invented in the USA around the 1820’s and cemented into the national consciousness in 1863, during our great Civil War. Christmas is a uniquely American tradition and, along with much of what the US does, it has spread across the world.
It is possible that the first Christmas celebration that took on the airs of the one we are familiar with occurred only in the heart of one of America’s most famous early authors, Washington Irving.
In 1819, Irving wrote and published a story about a Christmas celebration in an English Manor House in a series called “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent”. In Irving’s day, Christmas was celebrated in a raucous, even dangerous fashion. Fights and riots, pranks and drinking were the common celebratory means in the early 1800’s in the US and other countries. But Irving wrote a kind-hearted story of a Gentleman who invited his servants and their families to a quiet, contemplative gathering at his expansive home. They shared camaraderie, good food and wine. The children played games, and everyone was welcomed in the spirit of Christmas.
“Everything conspired to produce kind and happy feelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality,” Irving wrote.
Irving was at the cusp of an American society that was in flux. The era of Democracy was on the march and Americans began to think about their children, families and home. The raucous celebration of Christmas fell out of favor and the family-oriented holiday took its place.
Also, in the tradition of Americans since the Pilgrim’s crossing, we looked to religion to guide us. America’s many Christian denominations b to urge their parishioners and members to celebrate the birth of the Christ child bringing back the Christian religious tradition established centuries before, but since gone into disuse. During the Reformation, celebrating Christmas was considered a pagan idea and the holiday was no longer observed.
Certainly, several different traditions were included into our uniquely American celebration of Christmas; the Christmas tree from Germany, St. Nicholas from the Catholic Saint of the 4h Century, England for Christmas cards, Poinsettias from Mexico, etc. But Americans brought them all together for our celebration.
And what all envision as what Santa Claus looks like is certainly an American creation. During the American Civil War, famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, invented the look of how most of us envision Santa Claus for his illustrations in Harper’s Weekly newspapers. Nast envisioned St. Nick to look as the older American poem “The Night Before Christmas”, by Clement C. Moore, published in 1822, described him.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, —a right jolly old elf—
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
NO, Santa was NOT invented by Cocoa Cola to sell soft drinks, by the way!
So, enjoy this American holiday. Have a great day with your families, remember Christ whose birth we celebrate and take some well-deserved time off from your daily grind.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year