History of Christmas

Business Gift BasketsChristmas is nowadays marked by festivals, concerts, special TV programs, plays, children’s programs, musicals, art displays, contests, exchanging gifts, Christmas charities, martial art programs, decorated Christmas trees, fireworks, light shows and many more.

It is easy to realize that all of these could not be conventional. Most of these have been added over the years as people’s lifestyle and cultural affiliations changed. Then what exactly is Christmas in its original form? As far as we know, it was only a simple feast commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. When it started in the 3rd century, it was just a small festival alongside other Roman festivals. Over the years it has snowballed into a grand gala affair.

The songs that became early Christmas carols were folk tunes passed on through generations by word of mouth, and some of these were probably modifications of songs created before the advent of Christianity. However, by the 14th century, the practice of singing carols had become fully established. Later, many composers created popular Christmas carols. One of these popular carols, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, was written by Charles Wesley in the 18th century, and modified by Felix Mendelssohn a century later, and then by William H Cummings.

The extremely popular poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’, written by Clement Clarke Moore was published in 1823 in a New York newspaper. The now-popular image of Santa Claus riding a sleigh of eight reindeers was conceived in that poem. The poem is also known as ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’.
The credit for introducing the practice of exchanging Christmas cards goes to Sir Henry Cole. He sold the first design in 1843, but large scale exchange of greeting cards started only more than a decade later. The practice has continued to this day. However, now that the internet has established itself as a powerful communication medium, more Christmas cards are in the form of e-cards.

Once electric light was invented, Christmas trees started getting decorated by electric bulbs. It was Edward Johnson, the assistant of Thomas Alva Edison who changed the face of the world by inventing incandescent lights, who started the practice stringing light bulbs together for Christmas tree decoration.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, whose story was later turned variously into a song, a children’s book, cartoon series, and animated TV program, first appeared in a poem written by Robert May in 1939. This lively reindeer with a red button on his nose has now become a symbol of Christmas celebrations in many countries.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a film based on the story ‘The Greatest Gift’, and was released in 1946, just before Christmas. Though initially it was a box office failure, it is now considered one of the best American movies ever made, and is frequently telecast all over the world during the Christmas season.

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