The history of Christmas

Where does the most recognisable part of the year hail from? It’s an easy question to miss. December festivities are so entrenched in the minds of millions worldwide that we can at times take the presence and history of the occasion for granted.

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So what is it? The birthday of Jesus in the Christian religion! The actual name of the event is something of a recent addition; the Saxons referred to Christmas as Yule in their times. Meaning mid-winter, Yule was an integral part of Saxon society, occurring during the harshest period of the year.

Why the name change then? Simple. The Saxons converted. The spread of Christianity through the country slowly and steadily brought serious cultural change, with many either converting out of outright belief or by the understanding that Christianity was part of a power shift occurring in the country. It wasn’t until the eleventh century that the name is generally accepted to have changed in the minds of most citizens.

A big deal

It’s odd to think, but Christmas wasn’t such an enormous occasion in such times past. The year, as is ours in the modern day, was laced with festivals and occasions designed to note particular events, pacify the populace and give cause for festivity. It wasn’t until around the nineteenth century that the significance of Christmas rose towards what it is today.

What’s new?

It might surprise you to learn that what we consider a traditional Christmas in the UK is actually a new invention. This doesn’t even hail back to the times of swords and Saxons either – it happened in the nineteenth century!

The list of inventions is long. From cards to crackers and trees to decorations, many elements of what we know as the highly commercial and valued Christmas event is a recent construct. Even Santa Claus – yes, that’s right! The merry man himself has a long and interesting history with distinct modern elements. The signature red and white trimmed suit and jolly beard is an entirely modern creation.

It’s easy to see why. You can see the path of Christmas moving from a celebration of a tough year in a consistently cold season to the highly commercialised family gathering we know and love today. As standards of living have risen rapidly the focus of the event has likewise shifted.

Pleasant presents & all things cards

While the modern concept of Christmas is awash with advertising and sales, the act of giving has remained a theme in a different way. We all know of Boxing Day as a pleasant few hours of slumping in a sofa while your body frantically processes the huge amount of delicious food you’ve eaten, but why the name? It’s to do with giving. Donations at church were collected in what were known as alms boxes. After service the boxes were opened and the funds gathered distributed to the poor in attendance. This practice in future times progressed to boxes being filled with money and gifted to servants in the festive period.

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In some ways, the advent of cards marked the time when Christmas shifted to this modern portrayal we are familiar with in the modern world. Long before the nineteenth century it was standard for English citizens to decorate their houses with different layouts of mistletoe, holly and ivy. This traditional preference shifted around the nineteenth century, with paper decorations and colourful cards quickly becoming the norm. The same applies for the practice of filling stockings with gifts to be pillaged by eager hands in the morning.

As you might imagine, the Christmas card business was just that – business. With famous designers rising to critical acclaim off the back of their festive designs, it fast became a staple of the festive period for the latest and greatest in trend and design to be proudly displayed in homes around the country.

Family first

While we can track the steady change of Yule to Christmas as we know it (with all the commercialisation it brings with it), it’s important to keep in mind the one constant factor of the period – family. Whether it’s the we choose in our closest friends or our parents, siblings and extended family, the most cherished part of Christmas is those you are close to and appreciate most. The chance to spend quality time with those we might otherwise not see is a valued part of everyone’s yearly calendar – that will never change.

If you’re feeling the squeeze and still have gifts on the list come December, get in touch; it’s what we’re here for.

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