Hard Questions About the Bible

Christmas in America

Have you ever wondered why the picture of traditional Christmas celebrations – a warm cozy home, fireplace glowing, snow outside the windows, Christmas tree with decorations and presents, is so different from the scene of desert town with the birth of the baby Jesus in a manger?

It’s not just different climate or geography.  My sources are History.com and Wikipedia.

Christmas celebrations actually began in the 4th century in Rome when the early church tried to adapt and transform pagan celebrations.  The early celebrations were raucous festivals.  Christmas wasn’t really celebrated in America until the 1800s, during a time of class conflict, high unemployment and rioting.

Two writers, Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, changed the way people thought about Christmas.  Irving wrote ‘The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent’ in 1819.  In it was a story of an English squire who invited peasants into his home for Christmas holiday.  It was a warm picture of rich and poor coming together despite differences in social status.

Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’, published in 1843.  The secular story about the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the message of charity and good will toward men struck a powerful chord in the U.S. and England.

Americans began to embrace Christmas as the perfect family holiday, and looked to immigrants and the church to see how the day should be celebrated.

In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition that included many different customs, like decorating trees, family dinners, seasonal food, sending greeting cards and giving gifts.  Christmas was declared a U.S. Federal holiday in 1870, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.

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