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Christmas is a holiday commemorating of the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated on December 25th. According to the Bible, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in a stable surrounded by farm animals in the city of Bethlehem. The word “Christmas” originates from the term “Christ’s Mass”. The December 25th date is actually just an estimate of when Jesus was born, the Bible does not give an exact date. The first Christmas celebrations were just a simple mass, but over time Christmas grew in popularity overtaking many of the other cultural holidays throughout the world.
The first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch “Sinterklaas”, which means Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey, during the 4th century. He was noted for his saintly attributes, such as the care of children, his generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast on December 6 came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts.
He traditionally appeared in bishop’s attire, accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behavior of children during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. 17th century Europe, many Protestants changed the name of gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, which was Americanized to Kris Kringle, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve. Because very few people have actually seen Santa Claus in person, we can only speculate about what he looks like. Some of the city’s residents sought out symbols of the city’s non-English past. New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam, so the Dutch Sinterklaas gift giver became known as Saint Nicholas.
By the 1880s, the public depiction of Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, possibly based on the English figure of Father Christmas. Christmas carols started as Christmas hymns back in fourth century Rome. By the twelfth century, Chistmas carols evolved into songs. Several centuries later “wassailers” would go from house to house singing them. During the middle ages Christmas caroling was popular, but was dance focused, with a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus.
The tradition of singing carols in church did not start until the late 1800s. In the 1800s, Christmas trees became popular and so did the tradition of exchanging gifts, which is associated with St. Nicholas, and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi. The poem “A Visit From St. Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, led to the widespread adoption of gift giving. And, in Colonial America, the Puritans of New England outlawed Christmas in Boston from 1659 to 1681.