Christmas is everyone’s favorite holiday (it’s always fun to make blanket statements—Barack Obama is the worst president, the 2000s were the worst decade…). But does anybody really know the history of Christmas? How all of those hallowed traditions got started? Most of us have probably wondered how it happened.
Well, you are in luck. Because what you are about to read is the definitive history of Christmas — the how, the when, the why. So sit down, pour yourself some hot cocoa, put on your favorite Christmas compact disc, and learn about the history of Christmas.
It all started on a cold December night in the year 1381, the same year of the infamous Peasant’s Revolt in London. Saint Nicholas, a jolly portly fellow who doubled as a very generous man, had, for a few years, been giving gifts to local orphans around the city who had no hope in life. St. Nick’s two closest friends, Albert “Dasher” Smith, named for his dashing good looks, and Winston “Dancer” Miller, who, as one might guess, was known for his dancing prowess, suggested that he make this a full-time gig.
So St. Nick, with the help of his two friends, started visiting houses on the day of Jesus of Nazareth’s birth, giving children living there gifts. This became increasingly popular, and the trio soon enlisted the help of seven others: David “Prancer” Williams, Margaret “Vixen” Holloway, Keith “Comet” Johnson, Geoffrey “Cupid” Davis, Gordon “Donner” Moore, Tom “Blitzen” Thomas, and Rudolph Young.
The English government did not appreciate this. King Richard II, still in his teens, wanted to show his power to the people. So he placed a “bounty” on these nine and ordered them to stop.
Instead of acquiescing this request, they thought up a plan. Nick would wear a red suit and cap to disguise himself while the others would dress up all in dark brown and they would continue to spread gifts to the children of London. This is where the tradition of Santa and his reindeer comes from.
Outside the Palace of Westminster, where the British Parliament was located, St. Nick and company wanted to get back at the government in some way. So they did what was an early form of vandalism—they took metal objects called tinsel and started throwing them towards the palace. In front of the palace were large fir trees, which the people loved to gawk at. Some of the tinsel caught the trees and hung up there for the remainder of the night. The next day, Londoners walking by thought they looked beautiful, not knowing it was a failed attempt at revenge by St. Nick. Thus, the Christmas tree was born.
It was in America where Christmas found its true home. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland became the first president to put a Christmas tree up at the White House. Wee Willie Keeler recorded the first Christmas song on a record with his 1912 hit “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” And houses began being lavishly decorated in the 1920s during the economic boom of the time (some economists even blame the Great Depression on the loads of money Americans wasted on Christmas decorations).
Now armed with the knowledge of Christmas, readers can take this information and use it to benefit their Christmas experience, maybe even stump relatives with Christmas trivia. At least now we can appreciate Christmas with the wisdom of its origins, and give a toast to Saint Nicholas and his nine “reindeer.”