Every year everyone looks forward to December 25 which is Christmas Day. It is always important to remember no matter what the conflicting stories are that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. People celebrate differently and some attend church on Christmas Eve or early on Christmas Day. Each family has its own traditions and ways to celebrate. Some people who live in Europe, as I lived in Latvia, are particularly lucky because we had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and even Second Christmas to celebrate on December 26. In England, this is referred to as Boxing Day.
The Christian church in Rome, Italy began celebrating Christmas on December 25 by 336 A.D. That same day the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. It was celebrated as the birthday of the unconquered sun and gifts were exchanged and everyone made merry.
On January 1 New Year’s Day people in Rome decorated their houses with greenery and gave gifts to children and the poor. Evergreen is the symbol of survival. Many of these traditions are now part of the modern-day Christmas celebration. In the 11th century, St. Nicholas became a popular figure and known for his healing powers and generosity. With the establishment of the Protestant church, St. Nicholas was almost forgotten except in the Netherlands where he was known as Sinterklass.
Settling down in New Amsterdam what is today New York City the Dutch colonists brought with them the story of St. Nicholas. Soon in English he became known as Santa Claus. Everyone now recognizes the jolly fat man in a red suit, white beard, who says ho, ho, ho. He began appearing in songs and stories in the 19th century.
At the end of the 19th century, a boy named Alan Wallace who lived in Massachusetts would gather seashells in the summertime and used them to make Christmas presents. A woman from Georgia relates how her family danced, went to parties, and ate all week long in the 1890s. Today children still write to Santa Clause and leave milk and cookies out for him on Christmas Eve expecting him to deliver their presents.
My family always enjoyed the Latvian tradition where we opened Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. I took this tradition a bit further when I lived in Latvia and we would have dinner at about 10 PM and then at midnight we would open presents. This gave us the pleasure of combining the birth of Jesus with a time of celebration.
One more word about Santa Clause. When an inquisitive child asked his father how it was possible for Santa to deliver all those present around the world and why there were two names St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. The father explained as best he could and I would like to believe this story as any child could. He said to his son you see in Europe St. Nicholas, who lives way up north where we see the Northern Lights delivers presents to all the children of Europe and other countries in this part of the world. While Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole takes care of all the children in North America and other countries on that side of the world.
All it takes is a little imagination so I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.