The world now is a divided, diverse and complicated place, but it wasn’t anything like this a few centuries ago. There have always been conflicting opinions and it is only humane that there would be, but the sense of camaraderie that could be seen among the people has gradually faded. Deep conflicts, betrayals, wars on the global front, have all historically soaked our love and empathy dry. However, every year across all cultures and communities some occasions bring us all together in the most seamless and ritualistic manner. These are what we commonly know as “festivals”. The purpose of uniting people, which they serve in a world of nuclear families is of far greater importance than that of any religious belief! Of all these festivals, Christmas is the one that’s perhaps most prominent all around the globe and continues to bring people of all backgrounds and religions together, to this day. It has transcended from its strictly Christian roots to become a carnival for the whole world to participate in. We try to explore how this transition came about and how despite the way we celebrate Christmas has changed, the festivity remains the same.
Christmas in the Past
Like every ancient tradition, Christmas too has evolved over the years, to become what it is today. Let’s take a more in-depth look through the periscope of time and tradition, to get a clearer picture of the same.
Most of us have grown up either celebrating or witnessing people celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December – The birthday of Jesus Christ, but the New Testament doesn’t provide any information specifying that date, as such. So, the most plausible explanation behind celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December is the fact that in the days of the early Roman Empire, the Festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti was observed on that very day. The festival celebrated the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun”, as a theological analogy for the winter solstice. This was soon perceived by Christian writers as, “Birth of the Unconquered Son”, connecting it to Jesus himself.
The celebratory customs have changed over the years too. Christmas has been celebrated as the birth of Christ for more than a millennium. But it wasn’t until the early 17th century, that the fir trees that have become closely associated with Christmas were first decorated. In the late 18th century, giving gifts to family members also became another such tradition to influence the common folk. The carols that we cherish today go back hundreds of years surely, but they emerged out of this culture that encouraged families going to their neighbours’ houses to wish them well. It has become a ritual almost to leave cookies and a glass of cold milk for Santa Claus on Christmas eve, now. Surprisingly, this ritual has its roots deeply embedded in Norse mythology! Christmas folklore suggests that little children used to leave the cookies and glass of milk for Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. During the Great Depression, this culture was further popularised as parents wanted to instil a sense of gratitude in their children, to encourage them to be content with whatever they had.
Christmas in modern times
In recent time our traditional holidays and customs have dispersed from the way they were initially celebrated. Commercialisation has exploited festivals in an unprecedented manner. Old traditions and beliefs are not what they once used to be. However, this too has a silver lining; globalisation and the internet have allowed local festivals to be celebrated at an international scale.
As people migrated to different places in search of new opportunities they carried their traditions along with them. This was one of the primary reasons why Christianity and Christmas spread throughout the world and continues to light up homes even after so many years. Christmas has a come a long way from its Scandinavian roots and is now a global festival. It is celebrated by believers and non-believers both, simply as an occasion to get together with family, friends and loved ones.
As the number of households celebrating Christmas continues to increase, numerous businesses have also sprung up to capture valuable market share while preying on people’s beliefs. Furthermore, due to Christmas having a fixed date every year it allows businesses to have fixed production schedules and steady sales annually, further increasing Christmas’s economic value.
Christmas has transformed from a yearly ritual into a month-long festival, beginning with Thanksgiving. This is followed by the relatively new occasions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday where presents and personal items can be bought at heavily discounted prices. These holidays have been potent markers for the shift in Christmas traditions and perception worldwide.
While one cannot deny the rampant commercialisation of holidays, it has simultaneously also led to a close-knit community which spends time and resources to celebrate with each other and spread goodwill. Various modern Christmas trends like Secret Santa, Black Friday and Christmas decoration competitions have bought people and communities closer than before into a wholesome melting pot of multiple cultures.
Written by Neil Sequeira and Deepan Mukherjee for MTTN.
All pictures are courtesy Google Images.