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Why is Christmas (Noel) such a big deal?

There are two reasons why Christmas (Noel) is such a big deal:
  • According to the 1994 "Britannica Book of the Year," there are 1.8 billion Christians in a total world population of 5.5 billion, making it the largest religion worldwide. In America, 241 million out of a total population of 281 million people are Christians -- that's 85 percent. Because Christians follow Jesus, the birth of Jesus is important to them.

  • In America, the weeks leading up to Christmas (Noel) are the biggest shopping weeks of the year. Many retailers make up to 70 percent of their annual revenue in the month preceding Christmas (Noel). Therefore, retailers hype the event beyond belief.

The image of Santa is a familiar Christmas (Noel) sight.

According to Daniel Boorstin in his book "The Americans," Christmas (Noel) was largely a non-event in America until the 1860s. 1867 was the first year that Macy's department store in New York City remained open until midnight on Christmas (Noel) Eve. 1874 was the year of the first window displays with a Christmas (Noel) theme at Macy's. It has snowballed from there.

Why do people give each other presents on Christmas (Noel) day?

The tradition of gifts seems to have started with the gifts that the wise men (the Magi) brought to Jesus. As recounted in the Bible's book of Matthew, "On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, & they bowed down & worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures & presented him with gifts of gold & of incense & of myrrh."

As mentioned in the previous question, however, no one was really in the habit of exchanging elaborate gifts until late in the 1800s. The Santa Claus story (described later), combined with an amazing retailing phenomenon that has grown since the turn of the century, has made gift giving a central focus of the Christmas (Noel) tradition.

Why have you decorated this evergreen?

...with ornaments, lights, fake snow & Mylar plastic tinsel?

In Victorian times, people had already started decorating trees with c&ies & cakes hung with ribbon. In 1880, Woolworths first sold manufactured Christmas (Noel) tree ornaments, & they caught on very quickly. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, is credited as being the first person to put c&les on a tree, & the first electrically lighted Christmas (Noel) tree appeared in 1882. Calvin Coolidge in 1923 ceremoniously lit the first outdoor tree at the White House, starting that long tradition. Fake snow & tinsel... Who knows? It's probably related to the song "White Christmas (Noel)" (we'll get to that soon).

What, exactly, are the 12 days of Christmas (Noel)?

The 12 days of Christmas (Noel) are the 12 days that separate Christmas (Noel) day on December 25 from Epiphany, which is celebrated January 6. Depending on the church, January 6 may mark Christ's baptism (the Catholic tradition), or it may mark the day that the wise men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts.

In the past, there was a tradition of giving gifts throughout the 12 days, rather than stacking them all up on the morning of December 25. That tradition, as you might imagine, has never really caught on in America! We just aren't that patient. The song, however, demonstrates that some people once stretched out their gifts (& gave some fairly elaborate gifts...) over the full 12 days.

Who is this Santa Claus person?

  • Why is Santa characterized as a short, fat & jolly pipe smoker?
  • Why does Santa wear such outl&ish clothes?
  • Why does he ride around in a sleigh? Pulled by reindeer? That l&s on rooftops? So he can climb down the chimney? With a big sack full of toys? Which he leaves under the tree for good girls & boys?
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Santa Claus started with a real person, Saint Nicholas, a minor saint from the fourth century:

    According to tradition, he was born in the ancient Lycian seaport city of Patara, &, when young, he traveled to Palestine & Egypt. He became bishop of Myra soon after returning to Lycia. He was imprisoned during the Roman emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians but was released under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great & attended the first Council (325) of Nicaea. After his death he was buried in his church at Myra, & by the sixth century his shrine there had become well known. In 1087, Italian sailors or merchants stole his alleged remains from Myra & took them to Bari, Italy; this removal greatly increased the saint's popularity in Europe, & Bari became one of the most crowded of all pilgrimage centres. Nicholas' relics remain enshrined in the 11th-century basilica of San Nicola, Bari.

    Nicholas' reputation for generosity & kindness gave rise to legends of miracles he performed for the poor & unhappy. He was reputed to have given marriage dowries of gold to three girls whom poverty would otherwise have forced into lives of prostitution, & he restored to life three children who had been chopped up by a butcher & put in a brine tub. In the Middle Ages, devotion to Nicholas extended to all parts of Europe. He became the patron saint of Russia & Greece; of charitable fraternities & guilds; of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, & pawnbrokers; & of such cities as Fribourg, Switz., & Moscow. Thous&s of European churches were dedicated to him, one as early as the sixth century, built by the Roman emperor Justinian I, at Constantinople (now Istanbul). Nicholas' miracles were a favourite subject for medieval artists & liturgical plays, & his traditional feast day was the occasion for the ceremonies of the Boy Bishop, a widespread European custom in which a boy was elected bishop & reigned until Holy Innocents' Day (December 28). After the Reformation, Nicholas' cult disappeared in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holl&, where his legend persisted as Sinterklaas (a Dutch variant of the name Saint Nicholas). Dutch colonists took this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century. Sinterklaas was adopted by the country's English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, & his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children & rewarded good children with presents.

    ("Nicholas, SAINT", Britannica CD. Version 97. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1997.)

It is amazing but true that the common, popular view of Santa that we all have today, along with all the crazy things around Santa like the sleigh, the reindeer & the chimney, all came largely from two publishing events that occurred in the 1800s & one advertising campaign in this century. Clement Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas (Noel)" in 1822 for his family. It was picked up by a newspaper, then reprinted in magazines & it spread like wildfire. Moore admitted authorship in 1838. If you read the poem you will find that he names the reindeer, invents the sleigh, comes up with the chimney & the bag of toys, etc. Nearly everyone in America has been able to recognize or recite this poem since the 1830s.

Then, between 1863 & 1886, Harper's Weekly (a popular magazine of the time) ran a series of engravings by Thomas Nast. From these images come the concepts of Santa's workshop, Santa reading letters, Santa checking his list & so on. Coca-Cola also played a role in the Santa image by running a set of paintings by Haddon Sundblom in its ads between 1931 to 1964.

The red & white suit came, actually, from the original Saint Nicholas. Those colors were the colors of the traditional bishop's robes.


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