Colin’s Corner

The Origins of Christmas

By Colin Toll

I find Christmas to be a lovely time of the year as it is a period of celebration, gift giving, family and it seems we are all nice to one another!  So I consider Christmas to be an appropriate HR matter.

The origins of Christmas are complex and diverse, as different cultures and traditions have influenced the celebration of this holiday over the centuries. Here are some facts and information about the origins of Christmas that you might find interesting:

The date of December 25 was not chosen as the birthday of Jesus until the fourth century, by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who wanted to unify the Christian and pagan festivals of the winter solstice. Some scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in the spring or summer, based on the biblical accounts of shepherds and lambs.

The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English term “Crīstesmæsse”, which means “Christ’s Mass” or “the Mass of Christ”. It is recorded as Crīstesmæsse in 1038 and Cristes-messe in 1131.

Many of the customs and symbols of Christmas, such as the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the mistletoe, the holly, the wreath, the carols, the candy canes, and the gift-giving, have origins in ancient pagan cultures, such as the Romans, the Egyptians, the Celts, the Germans, and the Scandinavians. They used evergreen plants, candles, fires, and songs to celebrate the return of the sun and the renewal of life after the winter.

The figure of Santa Claus is based on the legend of Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop of Myra (now Turkey), who was known for his generosity and kindness to children. He was also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, and students. The Dutch called him Sinterklaasand brought his tradition to America, where he became known as Santa Claus.

Christmas is celebrated in different ways around the world, depending on the local culture and history. For example, in Sweden, people honour Saint Lucia on December 13, by wearing white robes and crowns of candles. In Mexico, people perform the posadas, a series of processions and reenactments of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. In Australia, people celebrate Christmas in the summer, by having barbecues, picnics, and beach parties.