Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The History Of Christmas: Part 4- The Christmas Story is Written

So, America was founded by puritans who did not celebrate Christmas. After the American revolution Christmas was lumped in with other English traditions and therefore made even more unpopular. While immigration brought older Christmas traditions to the new world in select areas the “American Christmas” had not yet been invented.

Two writers helped to invent it. One was an American writer who wrote a series of stories, much in the same serial method as his English counterpart Charles Dickens used. The stories were titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent and contained some of his most famous works including “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. It also contained the lesser known but more relevant (for this topic) “Christmas” stories. These stories, titled “Christmas”, “The Stage Coach”, “Christmas Eve”, “Christmas Day” and “Christmas Dinner” told the story of the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. Akin to the traditions of 12th Night the servants in these stories intermingled with those they served and the lines that separated them vanished as they enjoyed each other’s company. Unlike the traditions of 12th Night the activities they engaged in were not marked by raucous excess but by family-friendly activities that celebrated the joy of children, friendships and togetherness.

Around the same time Irving’s better-known counterpart Charles Dickens published the ultimately more famous “A Christmas Carol”. This story also highlighted an abolishment of class lines as the main protagonist discovers that love rather than money is the source of true happiness. In so doing he abandons his former ways to embrace a spirit of goodwill towards mankind- specifically those less fortunate than him. The story also depicts familiar togetherness as he observes others celebrating Christmas with their wives and children suggesting that this is the true purpose of celebrating the holiday.

Given that reading was the primary source of inexpensive entertainment for the masses back then these two writers became, in conjunction with presumed jealousy for those observing the customs of their immigrant neighbors, the source of the American Christmas revival. Sentiment dictated that the traditions be brought back and the holiday be celebrated as the grand event it used to be. It is here that the grand “melting pot” theory of American culture can be seen- our modern day Christmas traditions are a combination of Pagan, Catholic, Protestant, English, German, Romanian, Italian, Spanish, Irish, French, Dutch and a whole host of other customs from different religions and cultures. American Christmas is a melting pot holiday- it’s got a little bit of everything.

As the holiday gained popularity churches, townships, schools and local government entities started providing Christmas activities to celebrate the popular holiday. With so many government officials celebrating it and businesses closing on the day it became a necessity to officially declare it a holiday. And so it became one in 1870.

Since then the holiday and revelries associated with it have become so popular and profitable that it is now the biggest holiday of the year economically, religiously, and socially (though many bemoan that fact). And while the emphasis on family togetherness depresses the hell out of those without family and stresses out those with them the family-friendly activities celebrated are a heck of lot less destructive than those of the older catholic traditions and therefore guarantee the holiday’s continued popularity.

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