Which country started Christmas? Who started tree custom, did Charles Dickens invent it, when was it started?

Christmas traditions have come to us from all over - lets take a look at some of the most prominent

Christmas Day is important to many people all over the world. But it’s not simply a day for unwrapping gifts, indulging in chocolate before dinner and dozing off in front of your favourite festive TV programming.

In keeping with its historical roots, families, friends, and loved ones congregate on 25 December to celebrate the holiday season together.

But where do many of the traditions we use to celebrate the festive season come from today? And where was Christmas first celebrated? Here is everything you need to know.

Where did Christmas originate?

It is believed that Christmas was first celebrated in Rome, with the first historically noted celebration taking place there on 25 December AD 336.

Early Christian writers actually proposed numerous dates for the celebration, as nativity scenes in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke made no mention of a specific date.

But as early Christians associated Jesus with the Sun, and since the Romans marked the winter solstice on 25 December, this was the symbolically significant date chosen for the celebration.

The winter solstice is the point of the year when sunlight hours begin to increase once more after months of decreasing, leading to the notion of ‘longer days’. The event holds symbolic theological significance as Christians see the occasion as representing the Light of Christ entering the world during the darkest of days.

Not only did the date mark the winter solstice on the Roman calendar, 25 December also falls nine months after 25 March, the date of the vernal equinox, which was associated with Jesus’ conception (celebrated with the Feast of the Annunciation) by the Romans.

In terms of the location of the nativity story itself, modern day versions of the tale suggest Jesus was born in Bethlehem (now in modern day Palestine) to Mary after she was visited by the Angel Gabriel, who explained God was sending his son to Earth for mankind.

Mary and her husband Joseph left their homes in Nazareth (now in modern day Israel), and when they arrived in Bethlehem were told there was no room at the inn.

Where do Christmas trees come from?

Of course, the first Roman celebrations of Christmas would have looked very different to our modern day equivalent, and in the 1,686 years since then, a number of newer traditions have been introduced from various other sources.

One of those is the Christmas tree. Now a staple of Christmas celebrations the world over, it wasn’t always this way. So where did they come from?

Early modern Germany is where modern Christmas trees are thought to have first appeared. Martin Luther, a Protestant Christian reformer, is frequently credited as having invented the practice, adding lit candles to an evergreen tree in the 16th century.

The Christmas tree-lined driveThe Christmas tree-lined drive
The Christmas tree-lined drive

Records show that the Christmas tree was initially utilised by German Lutherans (the followers of Martin Luther) in the 16th century, and that Martin Bucer, a fellow Protestant Reformer, was responsible for placing one in Strasbourg Cathedral in 1539.

The tradition spread as German Protestant Christians brought decorated trees into their homes, with areas of Scandinavia also taking up the practice, before the Baltic regions also started doing the same in the 19th century.

In Britain, the tradition of decorating churches and homes with evergreen trees at Christmas was widespread, but the custom of decorating an entire small tree was not brought in until relatively recently.

The German-born Queen Charlotte introduced a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800, but the custom did not at first spread much beyond the royal family. It wouldn’t be until Queen Victoria’s marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert that the custom became even more widespread, as Albert brought the practice across from his home country, and wealthier middle-class families followed the fashion.

Of course, trees and other plants have long been used as decorations for various festivities throughout history, and it is believed that there are predecessors to the Christmas tree that outdate even Martin Luther’s time. Modern Christmas trees have been related to the "tree of paradise" erected on 24 December, the traditional commemoration of Adam and Eve.

These trees were used in plays that retold the story of Adam and Eve, with apples hung upon them to depict the forbidden fruit. Real apples were since replaced by shiny red ornaments, which could go some way to explaining the baubles we hang upon our own Christmas trees today.

Did Charles Dickens invent Christmas?

You may have heard it said that Victorian author Charles Dickens “invented” Christmas, and while it is not true that he invented the celebration itself - which has been around for hundreds of years - he is partly to thank for a very specific image of Christmas.

Thanks to A Christmas Carol - which remains a classic festive tale to this day - the notion of a ‘Dickensian Christmas’ was born. Of course, the book can’t be given 100% of the credit for fostering the romantic, snow-speckled image of Christmas many hold dear today - over 150 years of passing time, and countless movie adaptations of the story have had at least some part to play too.

The publication of the novel in 1843 also happened to come in the same year that the first mass-produced Christmas cards were made, depicting a happy family toasting the recipient with glasses of what appeared to be sherry.

The card, coupled with scenes in A Christmas Carol of parties thrown by Fezziwig, Nephew Fred and the Cratchit family, changed the way people celebrated Christmas, at a time when the public felt that Christmas had lost its meaning.

Britain was craving a renaissance in the way Christmas was celebrated, and the coupling of Dickens’ novel and romanticised Christmas card imagery helped usher in much of the iconography that we associate with the celebration today.

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