The History of Christmas

A letter to the Editor — Nevada Appeal
— by Rich Dunn, Carson City Dems and NVRDC 2nd Vice Chair

William Lepore Sr. is offended that “schools do not have a day or evening prior to Christmas having a small performance in honor of the birth of Jesus, our Savior.” Christmas, he insists, is not a “winter festival” and that “the decorated tree is a Christmas tree.”

Something tells me Mr. Lepore doesn’t realize that Christmas wasn’t always so popular in America. The Puritans believed that December 25th was a heathen festival that was actually a thinly veiled excuse for sinful behavior and drunkenness. They ordered shops to stay open on Christmas Day and insisted that work go on as usual. They banned holiday cakes and candles, and even had Christmas declared illegal in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. After independence, the United States Congress remained in session on Christmas Day every year until 1851.

Those Puritans were onto something. December 25th only became a Christian holiday when the Roman Church instituted “Christ’s Mass” in opposition to Saturnalia, a pagan fertility festival celebrated on the same day. The two celebrations cross-pollinated, and the Christian commemoration of Christ’s birth got mixed up with Germanic and Nordic beliefs and practices involving elves, Yule logs, mistletoe and gods living in evergreen trees.

The fourth century church leaders who created Christmas to keep the faithful away from such pagan practices would no doubt be shocked to see how thoroughly intertwined their once-holy day has become with ancient traditions they so disdained and vainly tried to eliminate.

Saturnalia carols anyone?