It's traditional

PUBLISHED: 11:56 29 December 2014 | UPDATED: 13:21 29 December 2014

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

Archant

The origins of Christmas dates back to 350AD when Pope Julius I, the then bishop of Rome, created a festival to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.

The origins of Christmas dates back to 350AD when Pope Julius I, the then bishop of Rome, created a festival to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. As no date for the birth was recorded he chose to join the two existing pagan festivals to form the Christian calendar. The Roman pagan festivals’ were the birthday of Mithra celebrated through the feast of Saturnalia and the winter solstice Deus Sol Invictus or “birthday of the unconquerable sun” on December 25.

December 26, a secular holiday for St Stephen, witnessed offerings given to mark the feast day. The name Boxing Day originated from two sources, these being the church collections through the giving of money into alms boxes for the poor and the giving of gifts and food to the needy in boxes or creates.

Santa Claus is based on a real person. Born in Patara in modern-day Turkey, St Nikolas of Myra - also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna and Nikolaos of Bari - lived during the fourth century. He is the world’s most popular non-Biblical saint. He is also the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking and butchery.

St Nicholas, Santa Claus or Father Christmas is traditionally portrayed as a lean man dressed in a long, green coat and furs, carrying a staff of birch wood. His character was changed by the author Washington Irving in 1809, based on the Dutch settlers traditions of St A Claus. It is believed that the modern portrait of St Nicholas comes from Haddon Sundblom’s advertising campaign commissioned by Coca-Cola in 1931. He elaborated on existing illustrations from Holland, Finland and Germany.

The rewarding of good children with presents derives from Nordic mythology and the legends of the Viking god Odin; he is one precursor to the modern Santa Claus. Odin rode his flying horse, Sleipnir. During the winter months children would leave treats for Sleipnir in boots and stockings in the hope Odin would in return to reward them for their kindness with gifts. It is thought this is the origins of the story of Santa’s reindeer and why we still encourage children to leave gifts on Christmas Eve. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, is usually credited with having introduced the Christmas tree into England in 1840. However, the honour of establishing this tradition in the United Kingdom rightfully belongs to Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III, who set up the first known English tree at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor in December 1800. Legend has it that Queen Charlotte’s compatriot, Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree ideology at his home in Wittenberg in 1536.

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