Part of the magic of Christmas is the melding of a multitude of traditions, ancient to modern, to honor the birth of Christ on December 25th.
In the U.S., modern Christmas is a season for giving, sharing, and caring. Many traditions, like Christmas trees and candy canes, are of European origin, but an American imagination brought forth our Santa Claus in all his plump, red-suited glory.
Dating back to 336 A.D., Christmas was first celebrated in ancient Rome, around 300 years after Christ's birth. It was a popular Christian holiday until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Because pagan customs had been enfolded into the religious observance, many Protestants chose not to celebrate it at all, including the American Puritans. In the rest of colonial America, Christmas was a raucous public holiday. Hunting, dancing, and feasting were the custom in the country, while city streets filled with enthusiastic celebrants.
By the 1800s, the holiday-focused merrymaking became such a public spectacle that concerned citizens, including Clement C. Moore, author of the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (popularly known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas"), wanted to promote Christmas as a family holiday. His poem, written in 1822, and the pictures illustrator Thomas Nast drew from 1863 to 1886, depict the Santa we have come to know and love today, a cherubic and jolly fellow.
While merchants count the shopping days until Christmas, it is also a time to share with those less fortunate. Collecting and donating warm clothing, toys, and food is as American as bell-ringing "Sidewalk Santas." No matter how you choose to observe it, celebrating Christmas has become a beloved American tradition. It is the season to rejoice with friends, family, and community and dream of "peace on earth" and goodwill for all.
Continued on page 2: Favorite Traditions