Christmas at the White House with Winston Churchill

After Pearl Harbor, the British prime minister insisted on visiting President Roosevelt in Washington. On a cold December 22, 1941, an airplane carrying Winston Churchill touched down at an airfield near Washington, D.C. The prime minister had come to pay a visit to President Franklin Roosevelt and discuss how Britain and the United States could[…]

How Washington Irving Shaped Christmas in America

The famous Knickerbocker was all about Saint Nick. Thanks to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” his creepy tale about an ungainly schoolteacher who vanishes mysteriously in the woods, Washington Irving is perhaps best known to modern readers as an author to read on Halloween. But Irving wrote much more about yuletide—so widely and imaginatively, in[…]

Sugar, Spice, and Christmas with Samuel Pepys in the Early Modern World

Pepys was a rising star in the administration of the royal navy, and life for the sailors aboard the navy’s ships was tough. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist of the mid-seventeenth century, enjoyed Christmas.  In 1661 he recorded spending a merry evening with friends; five years later, he wrote that he and his household ‘dined[…]

Why the Puritans Cracked Down on Celebrating Christmas

It was less about their asceticism and more about rejecting the world they had fled. Introduction When winter cold settles in across the U.S., the alleged “War on Christmas” heats up. In recent years, department store greeters and Starbucks cups have sparked furor by wishing customers “happy holidays.” This year, with state officials warning of[…]

Giving at Christmas Time in the Middle Ages

Christmas gifts were a well-established part of the medieval year. The traditions of giving to the less fortunate is alive and well today and many of us will receive leaflets about Christmas charity campaigns through our doors this festive, and witness charity fundraising events whilst out and about. One tradition which has a long heritage[…]

Saturnalia: The Wild Holiday that Turned Ancient Rome Upside Down

How the Romans celebrated Saturnalia. Happy Saturnalia! This ancient Roman holiday honors Saturn, the god of seed-sowing, and celebrates the promise of a spring harvest. Originally just one day, over the centuries the festivities grew to last a whole week, starting on December 17 and coinciding with the winter solstice.⁠⠀ In Rome, the holiday was[…]

The Gift of Holiday Traditions: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas

Exploring family gift giving and other holiday traditions, old and new. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! Charles Dickens Gift Giving Some curmudgeons do[…]

Karl Follen: An Abolitionist and the Christmas Tree in 1835

Sadly, Follen’s Christmas tree has gone largely forgotten. Karl Follen came to America from Germany in 1825 as political refugee. As a young law professor he had written that people are justified in rising up against despotic regimes. Lafayette, returning for the fiftieth anniversary of the American Revolution, assisted with introductions.  Soon Follen was again[…]

George Washington’s Perilous Christmas Night Crossing of the Delaware

Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night 1776 led to victory, but terrible weather led to more casualties than the battle. Introduction For most people today, Christmas is a time of food, family and festivities, when attention turns from work and woes to fellowship and celebration. Yet it has not always been so. In[…]

Frances of Assisi and the Creation of the Nativity Scene in 1223

Nativity scenes first originated in the small Italian town of Greccio. Introduction Around the Christmas season, it is common to see a display of the Nativity scene: a small manger with the baby Jesus and his family, shepherds, the three wise men believed to have visited Jesus after his birth and several barnyard animals. One[…]

Decking the Halls of History: The Origins of Christmas Decorations

The pagans paved the way for our modern festivities. Introduction The idea of hanging up decorations in the middle of winter is older than Christmas itself. Decorations are mentioned in ancient descriptions of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which is thought to have originated in the 5th century BC. Some 900 years later, a Christian[…]

Christmas in Medieval Europe

Each season in medieval europe had its own special Christian celebration, often based on older pagan traditions. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Christmas was one of the highlights of the medieval calendar, not only for the rich but also for the peasantry. For the longest holiday of the year, typically the full twelve days of Christmas,[…]

Coca-Cola’s Role in Shaping the American Image of Santa Claus

Whenever a folk tradition becomes popular, you can be sure that a large company will try to appropriate it for itself.  Coke claims it created the jolly old man as we know him today. By David Bollier Whenever a folk tradition becomes popular, you can be sure that a large company will try to appropriate it[…]

The Top Five Myths about Christmas

Debunking some long-held false notions of the holiday. #1 Myth Retailers Have Ruined Christmas By Commercializing It Until retailers began to see in Christmas the opportunity to market their merchandise the holiday attracted little of the attention it does now. It was retailers who made Christmas exciting. It was they who turned Santa Claus into[…]

Teleporting and Psychedelic Mushrooms: A History of Saint Nicholas, Santa, and His Helpers

Several of Santa’s modern features, such as his generosity, miracle-working, and focus on morality (being ‘naughty or nice’), were part of his image from the very beginning. By Dr. Louise Pryke and Dr. Christopher MalonePryke: Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie UniversityMalone: Honorary Associate, University of Sydney There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of[…]

The Real Story of ‘Santa Claus’

Behind today’s mythical Santa Claus from the North Pole, is a real saint – St. Nicholas. How he came to be today’s gift-giving jolly figure from the North Pole is a fascinating story by itself. Santa Claus will soon be coming to town, bringing gifts to children. Santa has several aliases, depending on the part of the world you live in. The English call him[…]

How Charles Dickens Set the American Christmas Dinner Table

How did a religious celebration turn into a holiday that is all about home, family, and Christmas dinner? Turns out Charles Dickens has a lot to do with it. By Ellen C. Caldwell / 12.25.2016 How did a smaller religious celebration—once shunned by many American Christians—turn into a holiday season that is all about home, family,[…]

An Overview of the History of Mythology Involving Virgin Mothers and Miracle Babies

Virgin birth was not a new story in the ancient world. At the centre of the annual Christian festival of Christmas, particularly among those of the Catholic faith, is the sacred narrative of the Virgin Birth. In the New Testament Gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-38), Mary, The Mother of God, is described as[…]

The Holly and the Ivy: Christmas Traditions that Pre-Date the Christian Story

Christmas trees are fairly moden, but parts of the traditional Christmas pre-date Jesus. By Dr. Peter GlavesEnterprise FellowNorthumbria University, Newcastle Every year, almost without thinking about it, we incorporate certain plant species into out Christmas celebrations. The most obvious is the Christmas tree, linked historically in England to Prince Albert – but its use in British homes goes back to at least[…]