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When Christmas Was Banned in America & Other Interesting Facts About the Holiday

We have been celebrating Christmas since the year 336, according to the records of the Catholic Church. Of course, we don't actually know the date of Christ's birth, but it's thought that December 25th was chosen because many cultures observed feasts marking the winter solstice about that time of year. Some later Protestant sects, like the Puritans, rebelled against December 25th Christmas celebrations because they thought the date had pagan roots.

The Week: "The upper classes in ancient Rome celebrated Dec. 25 as the birthday of the sun god Mithra. The date fell right in the middle of Saturnalia, a month-long holiday dedicated to food, drink, and revelry, and Pope Julius I is said to have chosen that day to celebrate Christ's birth as a way of co-opting the pagan rituals."

However, Christmas celebrations thrived across Europe during the middle ages. They were often influenced by ancient pagan traditions and generally included a lot of bawdy, drunken revelry, especially in Medieval England. "Many of the pagan customs became associated with Christmas. Christian stories replaced the heathen tales, but the practices hung on. Candles continued to be lit. Kissing under the mistletoe remained common in Scandinavian countries. But over the years, gift exchanges became connected with the name of St. Nicholas, a real but legendary figure of 4th century Lycia (a province of Asia). A charitable man, he threw gifts into homes."

We aren't quite sure who originated the idea of a "Christmas tree," but the first was probably introduced in Germany or Latvia. The National Christmas Tree Association [yes, there is such a thing] gives the honor to the Latvians.

National Christmas Tree Association: "1510 – The first written record of a decorated Christmas Tree comes from Riga, Latvia. Men of the local merchants’ guild decorated a tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it. The rose was used for many year and is considered to be a symbol for the Virgin Mary."

We aren't sure why they thought it necessary to set it on fire.

The Pilgrims who came to America were Puritans and they took a dim view of Christmas celebrations.

The Week: "Puritans were particularly contemptuous of Christmas, nicknaming it "Foolstide" and banning their flock from any celebration of it throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. On the first Dec. 25 the settlers spent in Plymouth Colony, they worked in the fields as they would on any other day. The next year, a group of non-Puritan workmen caught celebrating Christmas with a game of "stoole-ball" — an early precursor of baseball — were punished by Gov. William Bradford. "My conscience cannot let you play while everybody else is out working," he told them."

Anti-Christmas sentiment waned in England, even among conservative Christian sects, in 1843, when Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol." The book helped define our modern view of Christmas, less drunken revelry and more about Christian charity and good works.

America didn't fully embrace the holiday until the 19th century and for many it was just another work day. Even the United States Senate met on Christmas Day in 1797, and the House did the same in 1802. However, after Clement Clarke Moore's poem, "The Night Before Christmas" was published in 1823, Americans began to warm to the holiday. In 1856 President Franklin Pierce decorated the first White House Christmas tree, and in 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas Day a federal holiday.

A few fun Christmas facts:

Best selling Christmas Song: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby is the best-selling Christmas song of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. However, the holiday single with the most digital downloads is Mariah Carey's 1994 song "All I Want for Christmas Is You."

Highest grossing Christmas movies of all time: Folks could argue for weeks about the best Christmas movie, but the top grossing film is Home Alone. Who would have guessed?

Forbes: "Home Alone proved so popular that it stayed in theaters well past the Christmas season and was the number one film at the box office for 12 straight weeks - from its release on November 16, 1990, through the weekend of February 1, 1991."

Merry Christmas everyone!

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