Christmas is a time to be kind to our fellow man. We drop a handful of coins into the familiar red kettle. We drop off a sack of groceries at the food pantry or the local shelter. We buy a selection of gifts for a child we’ve never met.
And though we might get a little crazy trying to keep everyone happy during the holidays, we remind ourselves that it is, indeed, a season to be jolly. We put on a smile and join in singing everyone’s favorite Christmas carols.
It wasn’t always like this.
The church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ until Telesphorus, the second bishop of Rome, declared in the second century that church services should be held to celebrate “The Nativity of our Lord and Saviour.”
Even then, the celebrations weren’t always held in December. It wasn’t until 320 AD that Pope Julius I specified Dec. 25 as the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ, and even then, some early Christians resisted joining in the festivities because they fell in the midst of a pagan celebration of the winter solstice.
In its early form, the celebration was a festival more like Mardi Gras. In fact, the events became so raucous in the England of the Middle Ages that Puritan reformers actually banned celebration of the holiday.
That ban carried over to some parts of the English colonies, and from 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in Boston could be fined five shillings.
Thus, Christmas wasn’t a holiday in early America. In fact, Congress was in session on Dec. 25, 1789, the nation’s first Christmas under its new constitution.
In the 19th century, inspired first by Washington Irving and then by Charles Dickens, Americans began to build a tradition of celebrating Christmas as a family holiday.
In 1860, American illustrator Thomas Nast borrowed from the European stories of St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, in creating Father Christmas, a forerunner of Santa Claus. Ten years later, Christmas became a federal holiday.
The holiday celebrates the best America has to offer. Family. Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. A spirit of generosity.
If only we could carry the spirit of this season throughout the year, the world would surely be a better place.
— This editorial first appeared Dec. 25, 2009, in the Pharos-Tribune.