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Today, as I watched the numerous Christmas commercials on TV I was thinking of the long, long road from the earliest Christmas observances to today’s. I spent the day on researching (with the Encyclopedia not Google), and learned some fascinating facts I’d like to pass on to you.
According to a Roman almanac, the Christian festival of Christmas was celebrated in Rome by AD 336. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, a festival on January 6th commemorated the birth and baptism of Christ. During the fourth century the celebration of His birth was adopted by most Eastern churches.
The traditional customs connected with Christmas have developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of Christ’s birth with agricultural and solar observances at mid winter. In the Roman world, the Saturnalia, December 17th, was a time of merrymaking and the exchange of gifts. On the Roman New Year, January 1st, houses were decorated with greenery and lights and gifts were given to children and the poor. Later, when Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain and Central Europe, Germanic rites were added, including the Yule Log, fir tree, Yule cakes, gifts and greenery. Since the middle ages, evergreens, as symbols of survival have been associated with Christmas/ Decorating evergreens with lights and ornaments has roots in ancient Egypt, China and among Hebrews. Tree worship survived after conversion to Christianity in Scandinavia with the custom of decorating houses and barns with greenery.
The modern Christmas tree originated in Germany as a prop in medieval plays about Adam and Eve. The tree was hung with apples and called the Paradise tree. Germans set up Paradise trees in their homes on December 24th the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. Communion wafers were hung on them. These eventually became cookies of various shapes and candles were added as a symbol of Christ. In the same room there would be a wooden triangle with shelves holding Christmas figurines and decorated with evergreens, candles and a star. By the 16th century, tree and triangle had merged to become a Christmas tree. In the 17th century, German settlers brought the Christmas tree to America. By the 19th century decorated trees were popular in America, Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Holland. Missionaries introduced the trees to China and Japan.
Christmas cards are sent in all English speaking countries and the custom is growing in many others. The first card is believed to have been designed in England in 1843. One thousand copies were placed on sale in London. The design was a family party, beneath which were the words, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year To You.” The first American card was produced in Albany, New York in the mid nineteenth century. It bore the greeting, “Christmas Greetings From Pease’s Great Variety Store in the Temple of Fancy.”
And so was born the custom of the American Commercial; Christmas.
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