Christmas on rewind

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Mae Briody ’18

Christmas, a religious festivity and worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon, illuminates the hallways of Convent of the Sacred Heart through a time of wintery bleakness. Rewind the clock back hundreds of years as this blend of the celebration of the birth of Jesus and multicultural customs takes form.
According to whychristmas.com, church officials instituted the birth of Jesus as a holiday in the fourth century. In 336 AD, Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the holiday’s date in an effort to adopt the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival, a harvest festival that marked the winter solstice and honored the roman god, Saturn. Church leaders hoped that this would increase the popularity of the holiday.
Pre-Christian Romans initiated the tradition of holiday gift-giving, where emperors required their most despised citizens to bring offerings during the Saturnalia. Later, this ritual expanded to include the exchange of presents among the general populace. The Catholic Church also adopted the custom and associated it with the generosity of Saint Nicholas.
According to thehistoryofchristmas.com, American Christmas traditions were first accepted in the nineteenth century and established as part of the federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Christmas allowed parents to shower their children with gifts without appearing to spoil them. At a time of large immigration, the United States transformed the holiday into a family-centered day to fulfill the cultural needs of a growing nation.
In addition, American and European authors wrote about Christmas scenes from each culture. English author, Mr. Charles Dickens, wrote the classic tale, A Christmas Carol, in 1843, according to simpletoremember.com. The story’s themes of the importance of charity and kindness struck a powerful chord in the United States and England.
In 1809, according to stnicholascenter.org, American author Mr.Washington Irving wrote Knickerbocker History of New York. The book continuously refers to the white bearded Saint Nicholas, who rides horses and uses his Dutch name, Santa Claus.

Mae Briody '18
Maddie Squire ’18 and Mae Briody ’18

Dr. Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas” influenced Mr. Irving’s work. Dr. Moore portrayed Santa with eight reindeer, who descends through chimneys and delivers presents to children.

Mr. Thomas Nast, a Bavarian illustrator, drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. Mr. Nast illustrated a cartoon of Santa at the North Pole with a workshop filled with elves, and a list of the good and bad children of the world.
“I always used to think that the fact that Santa Claus comes to everyone’s individual house is so special.  As a kid, its nice to feel loved and appreciated.  I used to feel that most when I would open a gift from Santa that was exactly what I wanted,” senior and Student Body President Grace Passannante. “I think the fact that Mr. Doyle plays Santa for the children at the Carver Center and presents them gifts that Sacred Heart students donate is such an amazing event because it makes so many kids who do not have much feel incredibly loved and appreciated during the holidays. I think Sacred Heart does a really good job of reminding its students the power and love of giving during the holidays.”
Another familiar sign of the season is the Christmas tree, which is directly mentioned in the Bible. The verse in Jeremiah 10: 2-3, states, “For one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
In addition, the mistletoe is representative of the more romantic side of the holiday. According to history.com, the tradition of kissing underneath the mistletoe is a pagan custom. This “kissing” occurred at the beginning of most Christmas celebrations and was considered to have special powers of healing for those who embraced under it.
As an integration of Pagan, European, and American traditions, Christmas endures worldwide to honor Christianity and the coming of Jesus Christ.
“What I value most about Christmas is the religious significance of it,” Upper School Theology and History Teacher Mr. Dan Favata said. “We celebrate on that day that God loves us so much He became human – and the most vulnerable human of all, a tiny baby – and all the joy and hope that comes with that.”
– Mae Briody, Staff Writer