THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA
In 1870, America was deeply divided. Coming out of the civil war, the country was in deperate need of healing and looking for any token of unity. President Ulysses Grant saw that one day in December seemed to hold a special value in the hearts of southerners and northerners alike. Christmas, which translates to “mass of Christ,” was a celebration unlike any other. It was a time for religious Americans to celebrate their risen savior, while those without religious affiliation grabbed hold of other aspects of the day. But what was it about Christmas that held such a unifying force behind it?
The first documented Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, took place in December 25, 336 B.C. For many religious puritans, the day was steeped in pagan roots.
Pagan (noun): a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main or recognized religions. (Oxford Languages)
Many cited “The Epiphany,” or the baptism of Jesus, as a more substantial day of celebration. In the Roman Empire, the day of December 25th was celebrated as “natalis solis invict” (a festival that honored the sun during winter solstice). Some believe that the date of December 25th was selected as an attempt to convert pagan holidays to Christian ones.
“We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
In Great Britain and the American colonies, a puritan movement in the 1600’s outlawed Christmas, citing it as disrespectful and disgraceful. But as time carried on, many continued developing their traditions and celebrations. Influential books by American authors Washington Irvin and Elizabeth Dickens added color to the holiday and formed many traditions we know and love today. Like the Christmas tree:
“I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects. (Dickens, Christmas Tree, 1911)Emily Dickens
THE UNIFYING IMPACT OF CHRISTMAS
Today, Christmas is celebrated worldwide by billions of people across the globe. This global unity is unprecedented and cements it as the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. We honor those who choose to not observe Christmas and embrace the holiday in another way. And as a brand that’s committed to inspiring greater unity, we thought it’d be worth reflecting on why this holiday is so universally embraced:
1. The Story of Jesus
The profound story of his life, death, and resurrection has captivated humanity since his birth some 2022 years ago. Born in a measly manger in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus came into the world more like a peasant than a king. During his estimated 33 years, he exemplified the spirit of love that changes hearts and forces us to rethink our lives and what we live for. Jesus was radical, and his unconditional love teachings were so countercultural that he was sentenced to die on the cross because of them. Jesus came with a message for all of us. His unorthodox ministry revealed a universal love that extends across race, religion, culture, and any other box that seeks to divide us.
There’s something so beautifully human about the birth and life of Jesus. For this one day, we can unite around this profound story without getting too lost in the religious chaos that’s distorted the teachings of Jesus ever since. Regardless of your religious beliefs, we can all appreciate and connect to the origin story that inspired Christmas.
2. The Gathering of Family and Friends
The nature of Love is relational. When we come together with people we care about, we encounter meaning, purpose, and, hopefully, joy. That’s not to say time with loved one’s is easy, but hey – nothing worth doing ever is. This year alone, 113 million American’s will travel to be with their families for Christmas. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what a gift this time with loved one’s is until it’s taken away. The past two years made travel difficult. Gas prices, social distancing, vaccine drama. For many, this time with family and friends serves as a grounding point for the year to come.
3. The Intentional Decision to Take Time Off Work
After a year of hard work, Christmas finds us ready to embrace a moment of rest. This holiday is an invitation away from the day-to-day hustle and into a slower pace. With the New Year right around the corner, Christmas is a powerful opportunity to reflect on the past year’s memories and look ahead to the year to come. With 97% of companies giving paid time off for Christmas, this in itself is a gift that keeps giving.
“Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment.” (Irving, Old Christmas, 1886)Washington Irvin
No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, I invite you to appreciate the unity and joy that celebration provokes. Cherish the time with family and friends. Give yourself space to reflect and slow-down. Life is faithful to move forward and if we’re not intentional, we’ll miss the moments that matter most.
De Gree, John. “A History of Christmas in America.” The Classical Historian, https://www.classicalhistorian.com/johns-blog/a-history-of-christmas-in-america. Accessed 23 Dec. 2022.
“Dickens and Irving Re-Invented Christmas Traditions.” Christopher Roosen, https://www.christopherroosen.com/blog/2022/12/19/dickens-and-irving-reinvented-christmas-traditions. Accessed 21 Dec. 2022.
Haas, Mindy. “A Brief History of Christmas.” Voice and Vision, 8 Feb. 2019, https://voiceandvisioninc.org/blog/entry/a-brief-history-of-christmas/.
“The History of Christmas in America.” Learning English, 21 Dec. 2014, https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/history-of-christmas/2566272.html.
“2023 Federal Holidays – Indeed.” Indeed, https://www.indeed.com/hire/c/info/federal-holidays.