When you think of Christmas, what things come to mind? It could e anything from decorated trees to hot days at the beach or the catchy vocals to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’. But when you consider these things, have you ever wondered how Christmas as we know it came to be? How did the birth of Jesus become the lively holiday that triggers a tsunami of advertisements, incredible displays and piles upon piles of presents? To investigate this, we must look – as Charles Dickens would put it – to the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The idea of mid-December festivities is by no means a new one. The Norse people of Scandinavia were celebrating Yule in December – which commemorated the winter solstice – long before Christmas was conceived.
Christmas, or the birth of Christ, was only ever fully celebrated as a holiday in the mid 4th century in Rome. Over time, various countries have developed their own celebrations.
Even so, Christmas was hardly ‘mainstream’ in the early 19th century as any businesses didn’t even consider it a holiday that needed to be celebrated. However, by the end of the century, Christmas had become the largest annual celebration in the world.
The cause of this? Many would attribute the rise of Christmas to the Victorians – in England, that is. Due to Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince Albert, many German winter traditions were brought to Britain – one of which may be familiar to many readers, the Christmas tree. Soon after, nearly every home in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, lollies and small gifts.
In the age of industrialisation, many manufacturers leapt on the chance to profit from this new interest in the festive season. A sudden craze for Christmas launched a whole new industry that boomed during the yuletide season. Does this start to sound familiar?
Decorating the home for Christmas was becoming an elaborate affair, with families spending huge sums of money simply to ‘deck the halls’, as rows and rows of houses were lined with twinkling lights over the course of December.
In the 20th century, the consumerist culture of Christmas was consolidated as companies campaigned for consumers to cough up Christmas gifts like there was no tomorrow. In the economic boom following WWII, widespread prosperity translated into greater yuletide spending, a movement propelled by the rise of women’s magazines. Following the Great Depression, many parents wanted to provide the Christmas to their children that they were never able to experience and this included ornate decorations, decadent feasts and the giving of gifts. By the 1960s, the outlandishness of Christmas had been firmly cemented. Never before had there been such a bustle around Christmas, so much money spent on toys, so many festive songs, films and other media.
Indeed, Coca Cola’s advertising campaigns featuring a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus adorning a glossy white beard fuelled his image today, bringing us to the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Finally, this brings us to the Ghost of Christmas Future. Though Christmas has changed drastically over time, the essential joyous spirit of Christmas remains. As the world continues to evolve with online meetings and changing cultures, not even the Ghost of Christmas Future can tell us what Christmas will look like years from now – holographic reenactments of the Christmas story? Christmas dinner in a pill? Regardless, Christmas celebrations will continue to capture hearts for years to come.