Past Hokudai/Cast Entries

Saturday, September 01, 2007

History of Christmas

History of Christmas

Christmas was known to ancient people as the Nativity Festival. However, the date of Jesus’ birth isn’t known because people thought more about Christ’s death and resurrection, meaning that to early Christians Easter was a more important holiday than his birthday.

About 270 or 280 St. Nicolas was born. He is often considered the model for Santa Claus. He was excommunicated in the first Nicaea because he hit a fellow priest, however, Christ and The Virgin appeared as a vision to many of his superiors. They took this as proof of his innocence, so, Nicholas was allowed to return as a priest. Also, he is known as patron saint of sailors. However, it was his reputation as a generous person that lead to his being considered the model of Santa Claus. (One of Santa Claus’ first names was St. Nick.)

In 325, the date of the Nativity Festival (Christmas day) was decided. The reason why Christmas Day is on December 25th is that the “Saturnalia,” which was a festival celebrating the Roman god of agriculture (Saturn), is held from December 17th to December 24th. During that festival, people enjoyed decorating trees and giving people gifts. Furthermore, in the 4th century, right after “Saturnalia,” December 25th was the day of the sun revival and the Roman Empire regarded the day as a very important holy day (holiday).

In 1549, Francisco de Xavier (St. Francis) came to Japan as a missionary, and Christmas spread to Japan. According to recorded documents, Christmas was celebrated by a missionary in 1552, in Yamaguchi prefecture. This is the first time to celebrate Christmas in Japan.

In 1659, Christmas was prohibited by law in Massachusetts until 1681 because Puritans had started to live in the U.S. and they regarded Christmas as a Catholic festival.

For many decades, Christmas trees were decorated only in Germany. However, in 1848 a picture showing the royal family of Great Britain and a decorated Christmas tree was published in a London newspaper. After that, Christmas trees spread from England to all over the world.

It’s said that the prototype of Santa Claus was a famous poem called “A Visit of St. Nicholas” which was written by Clement Moore for his children in 1822. Also, the image of Santa Claus was designed in 1931 by the Coca Cola Company. The company started to use a picture of Santa Claus wearing red clothes and hat and having a white beard. Probably, people think of this character when they visualize Santa Claus.

Now, Christmas has evolved for a long time. Christmas is not celebrated only as the birthday of Christ by many people, but has gradually been commercialized as one of many fun events, especially young Japanese (non-Christian) people.
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Mirai Sozo is the School of Future Learning at Hokuriku University. The primary focus is on language (English and Chinese) and management (hospital administration, sports, and business).
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