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History of Christmas

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Christmas as a holiday has a controversial beginning--one that continues to be debated and disputed in Christendom today.

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Many years before the birth of Christ, ancient Europeans celebrated the winter solstice in late December. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule between December 21 and early January by burning a huge log. Feasting occurred until the log burned out.

In Rome, Saturnalia, the god of agriculture, was honored by feasting and drinking and reversing roles. Peasants made their owners slaves. They also celebrated Juvenalia to honor children, and the birth of Mithra, an infant God, was celebrated on December 25. For some Romans, this was the most sacred date of the year.

In Germany, people worshiped Odin, a god who terrified them so much that they stayed inside to hide from him. Many of the ancients believed the aurora borealis was Odin hunting for spirits in the sky. If one was caught in the path of Odin they could be kidnapped and taken to the land of the dead.

Some scholars believe that Odin, with his long flowing beard, influenced the concept of today's Santa Claus. The similarity Odin and Santa share of riding through sky, is often pointed to as evidence of the gradual transformation into Father Christmas and St. Nicholas. These two characters merged to become known in the English speaking areas of the world as Santa Claus.

During the colonial history of the United States, Christmas had been eliminated as a holy season, and celebrations became hedonistic and riotous. December 25th had no religious significance to protestants at that time.

Enter the importance of childhood. Until the mid 19th century, children by most cultures, weren't seen as creatures in need of protection, sheltering, training and education. But by 1870, childhood was finally seen as a stage of life in which youngsters were to be valued and cared for. Perhaps, even spoiled.

With the publication of the first picture book in America, "Sante Claus" in 1821, a jolly elf introduced. He rewarded good behavior with toys and bad behaviors with a stick for spankings.

In 1823 "The Night Before Christmas" originally known as "A Visit From St. Nicholas" made Santa increasingly popular.

Because of Christmas's conspicuous, controversial beginnings, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas and it did not become an official United States holiday until June 26, 1870. Today the debate continues. Should Christians celebrate this holiday when they do not know the actual date of Christ's birth? Or should it be left to Santa and the secular, commercialized Christmas most popular today? What say you?

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