Everyone Knows Christmas, But How Did It Begin?


Severino Baraldi

The painting, “The Roman Festival of Saturnalia,” shows a celebration during the winter solstice.

Karly Scheder, Reporter

During the month of December, most people are focused on the arrival of the holidays. After Thanksgiving and sometimes right after Halloween, people begin to put themselves in the Christmas spirit. Large gatherings and gift-giving are only a few of the many traditions during this season. With the majority of the population being Catholic or Christian in America, Christmas is widely celebrated through the states. Yet, Christmas wasn’t created by the Christians.

At the time that Jesus’ existence was believed to be Romans already had a celebration, but it wasn’t for the purpose of celebrating Jesus’ birth much like Christmas is. Saturnalia was a celebration that honored the Roman god Saturn. It was a week-long festival that-much like its modern-day descendant-consisted of giving gifts and bonding with those around us.

Kings would eat with slaves and the lowest class of society would feast with the highest, with one of the lower-class men being crowned as the “leader of Saturnalia,” a ruler for a week-long period who could supervise and conduct playful shenanigans. Although not much is known about the god Saturn, he is depicted with a sickle and is closely associated with agriculture and farming.

Later on, Sol Invictus was also celebrated by the Romans, which was a holiday that marked the winter solstice. Each solstice, winter or summer, marked the time to hold a festival for one of their gods. Although, some behavior during Saturnalia was considered inappropriate by Christians at the time. The celebration often included the god Bacchus of revelry, chaotic parties, and wine.

Nearly 300 years after the recognized time of Jesus’ death the Romans eventually converted to Christianity. With this change not only did they stop believing in the many gods they used to commemorate to only focus on one supreme being, but the holidays were also changed in order to honor their current beliefs. Thus, Christmas became known as the celebration of Jesus’s birthday, and Saturnalia and Sol Invictus were no more.

Christmas did not always belong to Christians and wasn’t always called Christmas either, instead it originated as a pagan celebration. Some aspects of Christian holidays, such as yule logs, bells, and the like are also found in other pagan holidays. Even Halloween originated as the pagan holiday Samhain. So, although they were each their own holidays, many aspects between them were shared and eventually adopted into a whole other religion because of how beloved it was.