How did Christmas, a holiday started back in Pagan Rome, become the centrepiece of the Christian Year?
Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas originally appeared on the history channel back in 1997. Narrated by Harry Smith, this documentary traces the roots of Christmas back to its early beginnings as a Pagan Roman holiday of feasting through the relatively new introductions of Christmas trees and candy canes.
The documentary is available online in 5 parts (below) or on DVD for those looking for a high-quality version.
“(Part 1) Like many Christmas traditions the tree is a relative newcomer to the Christmas story. Only since the early 19th century has the decorative tree been an important part of the American Celebration. … Christmas Trees, Candy Canes and even Santa seem like they have been around forever, but many of these Christmas traditions are surprisingly recent. Join us as we look back at how a holiday that started back in Pagan Rome became the centrepiece of the Christian year and why this season is known as much for shopping as the birth of the Christ child”
“(Part 2) By the middle ages, Christianity had largely replaced the old paean religions of Europe. On December 25th the faithful were called to Gothic Cathedrals for Christ's mass – soon to be called Christmas but out in the streets the holiday was still more ruckus than religious.”
(Part 3) America would invent its very own Christmas and in the process re-invent it for the whole world.
(Part 4) At first Santa came in all shapes and sizes … then in 1863 a cartoonist for Harpers settled the debate once and for all. … He looked in fact like a man of his times. ..A man who would fit right in with the Robber Barrons. But Santa was a Robber Barron in reverse. A captain of industry with a heart a gold.
(Part 5) Most churches today revel in the celebrations as much as the malls.
For those of you celebrating Christmas today, Merry Christmas.
If you'd like to learn more, try reading Christmas in America: A History.