Forbes offers his five reading suggestions on the history of Christmas, and I learned a bit in the interview that I did not know before. In America we currently have Fox News and others making Christmas and the "War on Christmas" part of a wider culture war, which examination of the historical context of the holiday makes look ridiculous. For example:
Where did the Christmas tree come from?The Christmas tree is mostly of German background, dating back to the 17th century and widespread by the 18th century. I think of Christmas as like a snowball which you roll, and which picks things up along the way. The snowball rolls very interestingly here. The German influences reach England because of the House of Hanover, so the German Christmas tree gets brought to England. Then the prints of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with a Christmas tree are published, and cause great interest in the United States. That’s how the Christmas tree becomes popular in the US.Read the whole thing. The Christmas we celebrate today, whether the modern consumer-driven shopping one, or the "Here comes Santa Claus" one, or the "it's all about Jesus' birth and gift-giving" one-- all would have been foreign concepts to most societies through the ages.
Finally – and of course most importantly – where did gift giving come from?That’s a complicated history. In the Church we’d like to say that it has to do with the wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus, starting a gift-giving tradition. For much of Christmas history, gift-giving was more token, and sometimes was on St Nicholas’s day rather than on Christmas. But more recently – since the 1800s – it has become a great Christmas tradition. Gifts were given in different ways over time. Early on it was in a stocking, then it was under a small Christmas tree on a table. Now, of course, the Christmas tree has gotten bigger and is on the floor. And the gifts have grown and grown.
This leads me to a piece I read by Jim Wallis this week that I agreed with, reposted over at Jesus Creed. Wallis is attacking Fox News' "defense" of Christmas in the culture war. But even Wallis seems to have a higher view of Christmas represents than what history does.
My conclusion: Most Americans are unaware of how they have adopted a version of the holiday that is a very modern, not ancient, creation. Which leads me to my last point: Here's a thoughtful and humorous post by a Türk who offers 10 Reasons Why Turkey Should Not Celebrate Christmas.