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Christmas tree in a Danish home, 2004
Also called Christ's Mass
Winter holiday<ref></ref>
Observed by Christians around the world as well as by non-Christians who observe the secular aspects of the holiday.
Type Christian
Significance traditional birthdate of Jesus
Date December 25
(January 7 in Old Calendarist Orthodox Churches)
Observances religious services, gift giving, family meetings, decorating trees
Related to Annunciation, Incarnation, Advent; the winter holiday season

Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual Christian and secular<ref name="Ganulin"> Ganulin v. United States (1999)</ref> holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus, along with themes such as family, goodwill, giving and compassion. It incorporates Christian religious ceremonies with the traditions of ancient winter festivals such as Yule<ref>The Odinic Rite, Yule</ref> and Saturnalia. Christmas traditions include Nativity scenes, the exchange of gifts, the arrival of Santa Claus, Christmas cards and decorations and the display of Christmas trees.

Christmas is traditionally celebrated on December 25. It is preceded by Christmas Eve and in some countries is followed by Boxing Day. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, which corresponds to December 25 of the Julian calendar. These dates are merely traditional and neither is thought to be the actual birthdate of Jesus.

Christmas is celebrated in most countries around the world, owing to the spread of Christianity and Western culture, mixed with the enduring popularity of exisiting winter celebrations. Various local and regional Christmas traditions are still practiced, despite the widespread influence of American and British Christmas motifs disseminated by film, popular literature, television, and other media.


[edit] Etymology

The word Christmas is derived from Middle English Christemasse and from Old English Cristes mæsse. (First recorded in 1038.)<ref name="CathChrit">"Christmas", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913.</ref> It is a contraction meaning "Christ's mass". The name of the holiday is sometimes shortened to Xmas because Roman letter "X" resembles the Greek letter Χ (chi), an abbreviation for Christ (Χριστός). (This usage is first recorded in 1123.)<ref>Oxford English Dictionary</ref> In Anglo-Saxon times, the festival was called geol.<ref name="CathChrit"/>

[edit] History

[edit] Pre-Christian winter festivals

A winter festival was traditionally the most popular festival of the year in many cultures, in part because there was less agricultural work to be done during the winter. From a religious point of view, Christmas is less significant than Easter and other holidays, and the early church strongly opposed the celebration of birthdays. The prominence of Christmas in modern times reflects the continuing influence of the winter festival tradition, including the following festivals:

[edit] Saturnalia

Main article: Saturnalia

In Roman times, the best-known winter festival was Saturnalia, which was popular throughout Italy. Saturnalia was a time of general relaxation, feasting, merry-making, and a cessation of formal rules. It included the making and giving of small presents (Saturnalia et Sigillaricia), including small dolls for children and candles for adults.<ref name="Bruma"> Bruma, University of Tennessee</ref> During Saturnalia, business was postponed and even slaves feasted. There was drinking, gambling, and singing, and even public nudity. It was the "best of days," according to the poet Catullus.<ref name="Sempronia">Sempronia, Julilla, "Ancient Voices: Saturnalia, AncientWorlds 2004.</ref> Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and began on December 17. The festival gradually lengthened until the late Republican period, when it was seven days (December 17-24). In imperial times, Saturnalia was shortened to five days.<ref name="Mosley1">Mosley, John, "Common Errors in 'Star of Bethlehem' Planetarium Shows", Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981.</ref>

[edit] Sol Invictus

Main article: Sol Invictus

Beginning with Aurelian in 274, the Roman emperors promoted the festival of Natalis Solis Invicti (December 25) as an empire-wide holiday. The Sol Invictus festival honored two related solar deities, Sol Invictus (The Unconquered Sun), a god of Syrian origin, and Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness," who was worshipped by many Roman soldiers.<ref name="Christian History"> Why December 25? Christian History and Biography magazine</ref> <ref name="History Channel"> Saturnalia? History Channel</ref> December 25 was considered to be the date of the Winter Solstice.<ref name="Bruma"/> It was therefore the day on which the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered," despite the shortening of daylight hours.

[edit] Yule

Main article: Yule
Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period. Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder, with the belief that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days.<ref name="Yule HC"> An Ancient Holiday History Channel</ref> In Germany, the equivalent holiday was called Mitwinternacht (mid-winter night), and there were twelve Rauhnächte (harsh or wild nights).<ref name="Reichmann">Reichmann, Ruth, "Christmas".</ref> As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the word Yule is synonymous with Christmas,<ref>Yule. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved December 03, 2006.</ref> a usage first recorded in 900.
Origen, a father of the Christian church, argued against the celebration of birthdays, including the birth of Christ.

[edit] Origin of the Christian holiday

The idea that December 25 is Jesus' date of birth was popularized by Sextus Julius Africanus in Chronographiai (AD 221), an early reference book for Christians.<ref> "Christmas." Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006.</ref> It is both nine months after the Festival of Annunciation (March 25) as well as the date that the Romans marked as the winter solstice, which they called bruma.<ref name="Bruma"/> When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. (In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.)

Earlier, around AD 220, the theologian Tertullian declared that Jesus died on March 25, 29. By AD 240, a list of significant events was being assigned to March 25, partly because it was believed to be the date of the vernal equinox. These events include creation, The Fall of Adam and Eve, and, most relevantly, the Incarnation.<ref name="CathAnnun">"The Feast of the Annunciation", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1998.</ref> The view that the Incarnation occurred on the same date as crucifixion is consistent with a Jewish belief that prophets died at an "integral age," either an anniversary of their birth or of their conception.<ref name="Duchesne">Duchesne, Louis, Les origines du culte chrétien: Etude sur la liturgie latine avant Charlemagne. Paris, 1889.</ref><ref name="Talley">Talley, Thomas J., Origins of the Liturgical Year. Pueblo Publishing Company, New York, 1986.</ref>

The identification of December 25 as the birthdate of Jesus did not at first inspire feasting or celebration. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating the birthday of Jesus "as if he were a king pharaoh." Only sinners, not saints, celebrate their birthdays, Origen contended.

The earliest reference to the celebration of Christmas is in the Calendar of Filocalus, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354.<ref name="CathChrit"/><ref>This document was prepared privately for an aristocrat and is named after an artist who illuminated part of it. The reference to Christmas states, "VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ". The date of this reference is sometimes given as 336 because the book is based on an earlier manuscript of that date. But the compiler added material and it is not known if this particular item is from the earlier manuscript.</ref> A reference from 360 indicates that Christmas was well-established in Rome by that time. Christmas was promoted in the east as part of the revival of Trinitarian Christianity<ref name="CathChrit"/> which followed the death of pro-Arian Emperor Valens in the Battle of Adrianople (378). It was introduced to Constantinople in 379, to Antioch about 380, and to Alexandria about 430.<ref name="CathChrit"/> Christmas was especially controversial in Constantinople, the "fortress of Arianism," as Edward Gibbon described it. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop (381), although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom about 400.<ref name="CathChrit"/>

[edit] Medieval Christmas

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany (January 6), which celebrates both the baptism of Jesus and the visit of Magi. But the Medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin," now Advent.<ref name="Murray">Murray, Alexander, "Medieval Christmas", History Today, December 1986, 36 (12), pp. 31 - 39.</ref> In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent.<ref name="Murray"/> Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the "twelve days of Christmas" (i.e. Christmas to Epiphany).<ref name="Murray"/> The fortieth day after Christmas was Candlemas. The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was coronated on Christmas Day in AD 800. King William I of England was coronated on Christmas Day 1066.

By the High Middle Ages, Christmas had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten.<ref name="Murray"/> The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form.<ref name="Murray"/> "Misrule" — drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling — was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day, and there was special Christmas ale.<ref name="Murray"/>

[edit] The Reformation and the 1800s

Image:1863 harpers.jpg
Santa Claus hands out gifts to Union soldiers during the US Civil War in Thomas Nast's first Santa Claus cartoon, Harper's Weekly, 1863.

During the Reformation, Protestants condemned Christmas celebration as "trappings of popery" and the "rags of the Beast". The Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. When a Puritan parliament triumphed over the King, Charles I of England (1644), Christmas was officially banned (1647). Pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities. For several weeks, Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.<ref name="Durston">Durston, Chris, "Lords of Misrule: The Puritan War on Christmas 1642-60", History Today, December 1985, 35 (12) pp. 7 - 14.</ref> The Restoration (1660) ended the ban, but Christmas celebration was still disapproved of by the Anglican clergy.

By the 1820s, sectarian tension had eased and British writers began to worry that Christmas was dying out. They imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts were made to revive the holiday. The book A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens played a major role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion (as opposed to communal celebration and hedonistic excess).<ref name="Rowell">Rowell, Geoffrey, "Dickens and the Construction of Christmas", History Today, December 1993, 43 (12), pp. 17 - 24.</ref>

The Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas and celebration was outlawed in Boston (1659-81). Meanwhile, Virginia and New York celebrated freely. Christmas fell out of favor in the U.S. after the American Revolution, when it was considered an "English custom".
Father Christmas persuades the jury of his innocence in The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686) by Josiah King
Interest was revived by several short stories by Washington Irving in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819) and by "Old Christmas" (1850) which depict harmonous warm-hearted holiday traditions Irving claimed to have observed in England. Although some argue that Irving invented the traditions he describes, they were imitated by his American readers.<ref>The history of Christmas: Christmas history in America, 2006</ref> German immigrants and the homecomings of the Civil War helped promote the holiday. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the U.S. in 1870.

Irving writes of Saint Nicholas "riding over the tops of the trees, in that selfsame waggon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children."<ref name="Irving">Irving, Washington, History of New York, 1812.</ref> The connection between Santa Claus and Christmas was popularized by the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (1822) by Clement Clarke Moore, which depicts Santa driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer and distributing gifts to children. His image was created by German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902), who drew a new image annually beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the form we now recognize. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.<ref name="Mikkelson">Mikkelson, Barbara and David P., "The Claus That Refreshes",, 2006.</ref>

[edit] Modern times

In the midst of World War I, there was an unofficial Christmas truce between German and British troops in France (1914). Soldiers on both sides spontaneously began to sing Christmas carols and stopped fighting. The truce began on Christmas Day and continued for some time afterward.<ref>Baker, Chris, The Christmas Truce of 1914, 1996</ref> (Although many stories about the truce include a soccer game between the trench lines (often reported as a 3-2 victory for the Germans) there is no evidence that this event actually occurred.)

In modern times, the United States has experienced some controversy over the nature of Christmas, and whether it is a religious or a secular holiday. Because the US government recognizes Christmas as an official holiday, some have thought that this violates separation of church and state. This has been brought to trial several times, including Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)<ref name="Lynch">Lynch vs. Donnelly (1984)</ref> and Ganulin v. United States (1999).<ref name="Ganulin"> Ganulin v. United States (1999)</ref> On December 6, 1999, the verdict for Ganulin v. United States (1999). declared that "the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose." This decision was appealed, and upheld by the Supreme Court on December 19, 2000.

More recently, some Christians have protested against what is seen as a secularization of Christmas, leading some to believe that the holiday is under attack from a general secular trend or from persons and organizations with a deliberate or unconscious anti-Christian agenda; the attack on Christmas has also been blamed on political correctness.[citation needed]

[edit] The Nativity

Image:Adorazione del Bambino - Beato Angelico.jpg
Adorazione del Bambino (Adoration of the Child) (1439-43), a mural by Florentine painter Fra Angelico.
Main article: Nativity of Jesus

The Nativity refers to the birth of Jesus. According to tradition, Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem in a stable, surrounded by farm animals and shepherds, and Jesus was born into a manger from the Virgin Mary assisted by her husband Joseph.

Remembering or re-creating the Nativity is one of the central ways that Christians celebrate Christmas. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Church practices the Nativity Fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of the Western Church celebrates Advent. In some Christian churches, children often perform plays re-creating the events of the Nativity, or sing some of the numerous Christmas carols that reference the event. Many Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity known as a Nativity scene in their homes, using small figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Live Nativity scenes are also re-enacted using Human actors and live animals to portray the event with more realism.

While Nativity scenes traditionally include the Three Wise Men (Balthassar, Melchior, and Caspar), and they are often referred to in songs, there is little or no historical evidence to support the tradition. <ref>Culture and the Arts, The Three Kings</ref>

In the U.S., decorations once commonly included Nativity scenes. This practice has led to many lawsuits, as some say it amounts to the government endorsing a religion. In 1984, the US Supreme Court ruled that a city-owned Christmas display, even one with a Nativity scene, does not violate the First Amendment.<ref name="Lynch">Lynch vs. Donnelly (1984)</ref>

[edit] Economics of Christmas

Christmas display in a Brazilian shopping mall

Christmas is typically the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations. Sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas and shops introduce new products as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies. In the U.S., the Christmas shopping season generally begins on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, though many stores start selling Christmas items in October/November (and in the UK, even September/October).

More businesses and stores close on Christmas Day than any other day of the year. In the United Kingdom, the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004 prevents all large shops from trading on Christmas Day.

Most economists agree, however, that Christmas produces a deadweight loss under orthodox microeconomic theory, due to the surge in gift-giving. This loss is calculated as the difference between what the gift giver spent on the item and what the gift receiver would have paid for the item. It is estimated that in 2001 Christmas resulted in a $4 billion deadweight loss in the U.S. alone.<ref name="Deadweight">"The Deadweight Loss of Christmas", American Economic Review, December 1993, 83 (5)</ref><ref name="econ">"Is Santa a deadweight loss?" The Economist 20 December 2001</ref> Because of complicating factors, this analysis is sometimes used to discuss possible flaws in current microeconomic theory.

Other deadweight losses include the effects of Christmas on the environment and the fact that material gifts are often perceived as white elephants, imposing cost for upkeep and storage and contributing to clutter. This is mitigated by white elephant gift exchanges in which participants make the best of their white elephants, and by alternative giving.

In North America, film studios release many high-budget movies in the holiday season, including Christmas films, fantasy movies or high-tone dramas with rich production values.

[edit] Santa Claus and other bringers of gifts

Main article: Santa Claus

In Western culture, where the holiday is characterized by the exchange of gifts among friends and family members, some of the gifts are attributed to a character called Santa Claus (also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or St. Nikolaus, Sinterklaas, Joulupukki, Weihnachtsmann, Saint Basil and Father Frost).

Santa Claus is a variation of a Dutch folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, who gave gifts on the eve of his feast day of December 6. He became associated with Christmas in 19th century America and was renamed Santa Claus or Saint Nick. Father Christmas, who predates the Santa Claus character, was first recorded in the 15th century,<ref name=Harper/> but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness. In Victorian Britain, his image was remade to match that of Santa. The French equivalent of Santa, Père Noël, evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In Italian, Babo Natale acts as Santa Claus, while La Befana, is the bringer of gifts. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. Now, she brings gifts to all children.

In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus.

The current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes. This story is meant to be a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and modern day globalization, most notably the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.

Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive. <ref>Santa: The First Great Lie, essay by Mariane Matera, Citybeat issue 304</ref>

[edit] Christmas Tree and other decorations

Main article: Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. The phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents the importation of a tradition from Germany, where such trees became popular in the late 18th century.<ref name=Harper>Harper, Douglas, Christ, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001.</ref> Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments. Since the 19th century, the poinsettia has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus.

Along with a Christmas Tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with garlands and evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe. In Australia, North and South America, and to a lesser extent Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures.

Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.

In the Western world, rolls of brightly-colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.

Although Christmas decorations, such as a tree, are considered secular in many parts of the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bans such displays as symbols of Christianity.

Some Christians also reject the Christmas tree as a Christian symbol, seeing it as an "idol" that distracts a person from the true worship of God.

[edit] Regional customs and celebrations

Image:Wiki christmas.JPG
Many nations distribute stamps each year to commemorate Christmas. Austria, 1999
Main article: Christmas worldwide

Christmas celebrations include a great number and variety of customs with either secular, religious, or national aspects which vary from country to country:

In the southern hemisphere, Christmas is during the summer. This clashes with the traditional winter iconography, resulting in oddities such as a red fur-coated Santa Claus surfing in for a turkey barbecue on Australia's Bondi Beach. New Zealanders also commonly celebrate Christmas at the beach, coinciding with the vibrant red flowering of the coastal Pohutukawa or "New Zealand Christmas Tree".

Japan has adopted Santa Claus for its secular Christmas celebration, but New Year's Day is a far more important holiday. While in South Korea, Christmas is celebrated as an "official" holiday, and in India it is often called bada din ("the big day"). Celebrations revolve around Santa Claus and shopping.

In Poland, Santa Claus (Polish: Święty Nikołaj) gives gifts on two occasions: on the night of December 5 (so that children find them on the morning of December 6), and on Christmas Eve (so that children find gifts that same day). In addition to the major observances of Christmas, German children also put shoes out at their doors on the night of December 5, and find them filled with candy and small gifts the next morning. Santa Claus (Hungarian: Mikulás), or Father Winter (Hungarian: Télapó) also visits Hungary on December 6, bringing small gifts, and is often accompanied by a black creature called Krampusz; while on Christmas Eve (Holy Night - (Hungarian: Szenteste)) the Little (Baby) Jesus (Hungarian: Kisjézus or Jézuska) delivers the presents.

In Spain, gifts are brought by the Magi on Epiphany (January 6), and in Scotland, presents were traditionally given on Hogmanay, which is New Year's Eve. In recent times, both countries have also adopted gift-giving on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland from the Middle Ages every year, except in 1939 (due to World War II). The declaration takes place in the Old Great Square of Turku, Finland's official Christmas City and former capital. It is broadcast on Finnish radio and television. Sauna bathing has an important role in Finnish Christmas, often after the visit of Joulupukki on Christmas Eve.

Saint Nicholas' Day remains the principal day for gift giving in the Netherlands while Christmas Day is a more religious holiday.

In Russia, Grandfather Frost brings presents on New Year's Eve, and these are opened on the same night. However, after the Russian Revolution, Christmas celebration was banned in that country from 1917 until 1992. Even today, throughout the U.S. and Europe, several Christian denominations, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, Puritans, and some fundamentalists, view Christmas as a pagan holiday not sanctioned by the Bible.

[edit] Social aspects and entertainment

In many countries, businesses, schools, and communities have Christmas parties and dances in the weeks before Christmas. Christmas pageants may include a retelling of the story of the birth of Christ. Groups may visit neighborhood homes to sing Christmas carols. Others do volunteer work or hold fundraising drives for charities.

On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, a special meal of Christmas dishes is usually served. In some regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, these family feasts are preceded by a period of fasting. Candy and treats are also part of Christmas celebration in many countries.

Another tradition is for people to send Christmas cards to their friends and family members. Cards are also produced with messages such as "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays", so as to include senders and recipients who may not celebrate Christmas .

[edit] Christmas carol media

Image:Gifts xmas.jpg
Gifts under a Christmas tree.
  • Deck the Halls (file info) — play in browser (beta)


  • Oh Holy Night (file info) — play in browser (beta)


  • Angels We Have Heard On High (file info) — play in browser (beta)


  • Problems playing the files? See media help. </li> </ul> </div>

    [edit] Christmas in the arts and media

    Image:Now is it Christmas again (1907) by Carl Larsson.jpg
    "Now it is Christmas again" (1907) by Carl Larsson.
    Image:Leech ghostpresent big.jpg
    Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas present, by John Leech. Made for Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843).

    Many fictional Christmas stories capture the spirit of Christmas in a modern-day fairy tale, often with heart-touching stories of a Christmas miracle. Several have become part of the Christmas tradition in their countries of origin.

    Among the most popular are Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker and Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol. The Nutcracker tells of a nutcracker that comes to life in a young German girl's dream. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the tale of curmudgeonly miser Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge rejects compassion, philanthropy, and Christmas until he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, who show him the consequences of his ways.

    Some Scandinavian Christmas stories are less cheery than Dickens'. In H. C. Andersen's The Little Match Girl, a destitute little girl walks barefoot through snow-covered streets on Christmas Eve, trying in vain to sell her matches, and peeking in at the celebrations in the homes of the more fortunate.

    In 1881, the Swedish magazine Ny Illustrerad Tidning published Viktor Rydberg's poem Tomten featuring the first painting by Jenny Nyström of the traditional Swedish mythical character tomte, which she turned into the friendly white-bearded figure and associated with Christmas.

    Many Christmas stories have been popularized as movies and TV specials. Since the 1980s, many video editions are sold and resold every year during the holiday season. A notable example is the film It's a Wonderful Life, which turns the theme of A Christmas Carol on its head. Its hero, George Bailey, is a businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community. On Christmas Eve, a guardian angel finds him in despair and prevents him from committing suicide by magically showing him how much he meant to the world around him. Perhaps the most famous animated production is A Charlie Brown Christmas wherein Charlie Brown tries to address his feelings of dissatisfaction with the holidays by trying to find a deeper meaning in them. This special is noted for one of the characters retelling of the first Christmas. The humorous A Christmas Story (1983) in which the main character dreams of owning a Red Ryder BB Gun, has become a holiday classic and is even repeated for 24 hours straight starting on Christmas Eve night and going on through Christmas Day on US cable channel Turner Network Television or TBS.

    A few true stories have also become enduring Christmas tales themselves. The story behind the Christmas carol Silent Night and the story Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus is among the most well-known of these.

    Radio and television programs aggressively pursue entertainment and ratings through their cultivation of Christmas themes. Radio stations broadcast Christmas carols and Christmas songs, including classical music such as the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. Among other classical pieces inspired by Christmas are the Nutcracker Suite, adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet score, and Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). Television networks add Christmas themes to their standard programming, run traditional holiday movies, and produce a variety of Christmas specials.

    [edit] See also

    [edit] References

    • "Christmas," The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London, Columbia University Press 1975.
    • Restad, Penne L., Christmas in America: A History, New York, Oxford University Press. 1995. ISBN 0-19-509300-3

    [edit] External links

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