When the boys were young, we used a Countdown to Christmas calendar. It had a pocket for each day that held a strip of paper with an activity that would help us get ready for Christmas. Even though I haven't used that calendar for many years, I still like the concept of spreading out the holiday activities, and try to do one or two things every day to make the season less hectic.I realize that Christmas hasn't always been celebrated as it is today, but I was surprised to learn just how many changes the day has gone through over the years:
- Dec. 25 was a pagan holiday before it was a Christian feast day, and it was a commercial and secular holiday before it was a religious holiday.
- In the early days of Christianity, Pope Julius I chose December 25th to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity in order to take the focus away from other pagan festivals occurring during this time of year. For many years the day was sort of a winter Mardi Gras.
- Early Americans, if they celebrated the holiday at all, did it in the traditional style, with drunken revelry. The Puritans who settled in America did not celebrate Christmas; it was actually illegal to celebrate the holiday in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Congress was regularly in session on Christmas Day.
- The holiday started changing in the 19th century. Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in 1834. The book portrayed Christmas as more family-oriented and less of a bacchanalia. Clement Clarke Moore wrote “The Night Before Christmas" in 1822, which helped popularize the image of St. Nick. Merchants began to push the idea of exchanging Christmas presents as an end in and of itself. By the end of the 1800s, Christmas had been established as a secular holiday, and it was declared a federal holiday in 1870.
- Christmas wasn't decreed a Holy Day of Obligation (with obligatory Mass attendance) by the Catholic bishops in the United States until 1884.