The Origins of Christmas

Hector Castillo, Staff Writer

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, many people start to look forward to one holiday in particular: Christmas. This may be for religious reasons, or simply just to enjoy the holiday season. Whatever the reason for celebration, have you ever wondered about the origins of this holiday? The answer may be surprising.

According to, mid-winter celebrations have been around for centuries. Early Europeans celebrated life and birth during the darkest days of the year.  For example, Scandinavians celebrated the return of the sun after the winter solstice, where the days were starting to lengthen again. That celebration lasted from December 21 through January. Germans also observed a mid-winter holiday. They worshipped the god Oden; they thought he observed their actions and decided whether or not they would prosper throughout the year.

Another major mid-winter celebration was the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. According to, during this time, many Romans ate and drank to excess, and businesses and schools were closed in honor of the holiday. Romans also observed a feast celebrating the children of Rome during mid-winter, called Juvenalia. One more Roman holiday that took place on December 25 was the birthday of Mithra, the Roman god of the sun. This holiday was commonly celebrated only by upperclass Roman citizens.

But how did the modern celebration of Christmas come about? According to, during the fourth century, Christian church officials decided to make the birth of Jesus a holiday, and Pope Julius I chose December 25 as its date in order to assimilate some features of the Roman celebration Saturnalia into the celebration.

But this doesn’t answer the question: Where does Santa Claus come from? Santa Claus’ origins can be found in the monk St. Nicholas. According to, St. Nicholas was known for his goodness and selflessness, and many legends were based on him. In fact, many people in Europe celebrated the day of his death, December 6, as a feast day. St. Nicholas made his move into America when a New York newspaper reported that many Dutch families were gathering to honor his death. The Dutch form of St. Nicholas is Sint Nikolaas, which was shortened to Sinter Klaas, and that is the origin of Santa Claus’ name.

It is clear that many races, nationalities, and religions celebrate mid-winter celebrations. So however you choose to celebrate the end of the year, know that many different people around the world from centuries past have celebrated as well.