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Christmas through the ages

Christmas is a holiday that has been celebrated in hundreds of different ways, for hundreds of years: a holiday whose traditions are traced back to hundreds of other celebrations. So we must ask, what were those celebrations of old?

In Scandinavia (Norway & Sweden Area) the Vikings had Yule, a celebration of the sun that would take place during the Winter Solstice. Around the beginning of winter, most livestock held through the year would be killed so they would not have to be fed. In addition to having fresh food, most alcohol was done brewing. To start the celebration, each household’s father and sons would go out to get large logs for the fireplace, and upon their return the logs would be lit. As long as the logs burned, the family would feast: Each spark of the fire symbolizing a new pig or calf born the next year.

The German Pagans believed in the god Odin, and they were terrified of him. The Christmas season was believed to be the time when he would watch over them deciding who would live or die. This meant most people would choose to stay inside around this time.

In the Roman Empire, people would celebrate Saturnalia, which was a festival about Saturn, the god of Agriculture. During Saturnalia, everyone was supposed to celebrate with feasting, drinking and other festivities. Everyone meant everyone. During this time, the Roman social pyramid disappeared, all businesses and schools closed, and slaves were allowed for one month to be free and treated the same as other people. The Romans would party for a month straight. Also, around this time the Romans would celebrate Juvenalia, a feast meant for honoring Roman children. Those in the higher classes of Rome would celebrate on December 25th, the birthday of the Persian infant god of unconquerable sun, Mithra, believed to be born out of a rock.

During the Middle Ages, several people celebrated Christmas in very different ways as Christianity had replaced pagan religions, and the Christian holidays had ended up incorporating many regional Pagan traditions. One of these unique ways of celebrating had actually spread, and was celebrated throughout western europe. On the day of Christmas, celebrators would go to church and then once it ended, they’d have a giant celebration that could be compared to St. Patrick’s day in Chicago: They’d all get drunk and then they’d play the biggest game of the night. A beggar or student would be crowned the “Lord of Misrule” and other people would play his subjects, and from then on chaos would break loose. Poor people would go to the rich people’s part of town and demand their best food and drink. If the poor were refused, they’d play a ton of annoying pranks and cause mischief around their house. Christmas was the time of year where the wealthy’s assumed debts to society were to be paid back.

In America, one of the first instances of Christmas began, as most moments in American history, with the Puritans of Massachusetts. Puritans were strict protestants believing purely in the word of the Bible, in which Christmas is never mentioned. As a result, Puritans hated Christmas and refused to celebrate it, which led to Boston illegalizing Christmas for the 22 years between 1659 and 1681. If you showed any sort of Christmas joy or celebration you were fined five shillings ($31.37). However, it is reported that many other Colonial cities celebrated Christmas at the same time.

After the American Revolution, there was a large anti-British movement as Americans began dropping all British and European traditions, including Christmas. Christmas was finally declared a federal holiday nearly a century after the country was created in 1870. In the aftermath of the Civil War, holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving became extremely important in trying to reunite the country.

So, how will you celebrate Christmas this year?

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About the Contributor
Ava Long, Staff Writer
Ava Long is a Junior at MCHS. She is a huge fan of history, and she loves analyzing it and comparing it to the complicated modem day. The quotes that heavily influence her thinking are "History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme" from Mark Twain and "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" from George Santayana. This is her first year on The Red and Grey staff, and she looks forward to being able to write about the topics and world she finds fascinating. 

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