From Paganism to Commercialisation: The Evolution of Christmas by Sophie Pike

Christmas: many people’s favourite holiday. We look forward to gathering around the Christmas tree having just eaten a delicious Christmas lunch, and catching up on the previous year. For many, there is no better time of year. But with so much money and expectation tagged onto ‘Christmas’ over the years, I wonder how many of us celebrate Christmas for what it traditionally meant.

The first celebration of Christmas was recorded in 325 AD, and is traditionally the Christian celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. Prior to that, pagans celebrated the winter solstice at a similar time of year, which is still practised today. Dressing a Christmas tree caught on in Victorian times from Germany. This is also very similar to Pagan tradition of bringing greenery inside for decoration. These have evolved over time into the seasonal winter celebration we all know as “Christmas” today.

How much of Christmas is still religious then? Many people sing Christmas carols and go to Christmas services, but there are some who celebrate Christmas without holding any Christian beliefs. Some countries have banned Christmas altogether. Others are starting to welcome it into their culture. Only last year, Saudi Arabia lifted their ban on Christmas, bringing Christmas cheer to people of all faiths. Does this move show the presence of a more liberal political stance, or the absence of religious meaning in modern festivities?

The original man in a red jacket was St Nicholas, a bishop with a lot of money who donated to poor children. From this clerical figure, Santa Claus was born. He was bought forth into the world in his current form in the 1930s by Coca-Cola. Thus the materialism of Christmas crept in. Children begged their parents for “things” in the form of presents, often forgetting the original Christmas values: a time for family, for love and for merriment. The celebration of togetherness. Now, many companies use it as a way to up sales and promote the latest gadgets. Christmas, in some ways, has become a competition. The sizes and amounts of presents create constant comparisons of wealth between families and friends. Parenting itself has come under scrutiny, with conflicting views on whether or not excessive gift-giving is good for children. Christmas itself has become a commodity, with classic advent calendars moving away from traditional pictures and chocolate. They’ve now moved on to make-up brands selling mini versions of their products in an advent calendar for £50+. Was this really what Christmas was all about?

Many take a pessimistic view of this commercialisation. Given the increased importance of “stuff” in our modern world, materialism was surely inevitable. We can’t undo this, but we can re-teach the values Christmas originally held. After all, they are important regardless of a person’s religion or wealth. I’m not saying don’t buy family members expensive presents. Just let Santa get them some chocolate and a silly game or book rather than the latest video game console. This year, remember what Christmas is really about and enjoy spending time with your families and those you love. It is surely the most precious of any present.


Created with images by Annie Spratt - "Christmas background"

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