Everyone thinks they know the story of Christmas, the Nativity, the Wise Men, and of course presents!
However, the reality is that Christmas has been shaped over 2,000 years and can even trace its origins back to before the emergence of Christianity.
The Bible never actually gives a date for Jesus’ birth, so why do we always celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December? The date was chosen around 300 years after by the Pope in order to coincide with the Roman festival of the Saturnalia.
At Saturnalia the Romans got drunk, stuffed themselves and gave joke presents over a seven-day period. The party atmosphere of Saturnalia was what Christmas looked like for almost 1,500 years!
The jovial nature of Christmas was what got it banned, along with mince pies, by Oliver Cromwell. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your tastes) the myth that mince pies are still technically banned is just that, a myth, all Cromwell’s laws were abolished after his death.
Christmas remained a largely rural festival until the 19th century and the industrial revolution meant that people flocked to the cities. Christmas was gradually reinvented into a more family-friendly affair during the mid-1800s.
Partially responsible for this shift is Charles Dickens and his book, A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. The tale’s message of kindness and community helped inspire a revolution in Christmas celebrations, including the introduction of presents for children.
Dickens also popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’.
Christmas trees were first introduced to Britain in the 1840s by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, from his native Germany. The traditions of Christmas trees there possibly precede the conversion to Christianity as many German pagan communities worshipped trees.
Eating a roast turkey is also considered a staple of Christmas. This tradition started during the mid-1500s when, notoriously un-merry husband, Henry VIII first had a turkey for Christmas after they had recently been introduced from the Americas.
They were particularly popular with farmers who didn’t want to kill their cows or chickens, useful for their milk and eggs, for just one day’s celebration.
However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that turkeys became more popular than geese. Maybe when you’re sat round the table on the 25th you can share some of these facts rather than attempt the jokes that crackers give you!