Christmas

Thanksgiving Day. November 26, 1789.

Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, are both practices that long predate the European settlement of North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610. In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group’s London Company charter specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned… in the land of Virginia shall be year...

A Christmas Carol. December 25.

By mid-1843 Dickens began to suffer from financial problems. Sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were falling off, and his wife, Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth child. Matters worsened when Chapman & Hall, his publishers, threatened to reduce his monthly income by £50 if sales dropped further. He began A Christmas Carol in October 1843. Michael Slater, Dickens’s biographer, describes the book as being “written at white heat”; it was completed in six weeks, the final pages being written in early December. He built much of the work in his head while taking night-time walks of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) around London. Dickens’s sister-in-law wrote how he “wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner, in composition&#...

December 17, 217 B.C. Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. A common custom was the election of a “King of the Saturnalia“, who would give orders to people and preside over the merrymaking. This custom derived in the Middle Ages into the Lord of Misrule in England– known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – that was an officer appo...

The Nativity of Christ. December 25.

Around the Third Century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. The Nativity of Jesus Christ, narrated by both Mathew and Luke in the New Testament are prominent in gospels and early Christian writers suggested various dates for the anniversary. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of (the Egyptian month) Pachon (May 20)… Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 20 or 21).” Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar;...

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