Episode 90

The History of Christmas and Santa Claus

🎙

In this episode, Scott takes us on a historical sleigh ride through the fascinating origins of Christmas. From pagan rituals to medieval feasts, Scott uncovers the history, magic, and traditions behind the holiday season. Join us as we explore the evolution of Christmas and discover why it holds a special place in our hearts.

Merry Christmas from the Talk With History team!

0:00 History of Christmas

00:09 Introduction and Gratitude

00:49 Unwrapping the History of Christmas

01:29 Ancient Origins of Christmas

02:10 Christmas in the Middle Ages

02:46 The Norse Yule and European Celebrations

03:46 Christmas Banned in England

04:24 Revival and Modern Traditions of Christmas

05:02 The Pagan Roots of Mistletoe Tradition

05:24 The Evolution of Santa Claus

07:42 The Global Symbol of Hope: Santa Claus

08:00 Conclusion: The Timeless Spirit of Christmas

-------------------------------------------------------

Want to support the team?

You can buy us a coffee here ☕️

-------------------------------------------------------

Explore more of our Walk with History media productions

📧 contact: talkwithhistory@gmail.com

Transcript
Scott:

Welcome to Talk With History.

Scott:

I'm your host, Scott.

Scott:

It's the end of the year, and Jen and I wanna say thank you.

Scott:

Thank you for an amazing year of history guided journeys, support

Scott:

from you, and thank you to all those who reached out and review the show.

Scott:

We saw some amazing growth this year, and we look forward to

Scott:

next year as we continue to are history adventures with you.

Scott:

This will be our last episode of twenty twenty three, but don't worry.

Scott:

We'll be back with a bunch of new travels to explore and share.

Scott:

We hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Scott:

Tonight, we're sitting around the fire to learn about a holiday steeped in

Scott:

history, magic, and holiday spirit.

Scott:

We peel back the wrapping paper on some of the most beloved holiday

Scott:

traditions and unwrapping the biggest gift of all, Christmas itself.

Scott:

Christmas is a time for family, feasting, and festivity.

Scott:

But have you ever wondered where these traditions came from?

Scott:

How did a humble baby born in a manger become the center of a global celebration?

Scott:

Buckle up, folks, because we're about to embark on a historical sleigh ride through

Scott:

the fascinating origins of Christmas.

Scott:

Our story begins long before the jingle bells in the ancient world.

Scott:

Pagan winter celebrations like the Roman Saturnalia and the Norse Yule

Scott:

marked the darkest days of the year with Feasting, merrymaking, and gift giving.

Scott:

These celebrations honored the return of the sun and the promise of spring.

Scott:

Then around the fourth century AD, with Christianity on the rise, church leaders

Scott:

decided to adapt these traditions to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Scott:

December twenty fifth, originally a Roman holiday honoring the sun god Sol Invictus,

Scott:

became the official date for Christmas.

Scott:

Fast forward to the middle ages, and Christmas had

Scott:

transformed into a joyous feast.

Scott:

Imagine grand banquets in the castles and manor houses with roasted boar,

Scott:

spiced wine, and elaborate pageantry.

Scott:

People sang carols, danced, and indulged in games like

Scott:

mummers, plays, and wassailing.

Scott:

But it wasn't all fun and games.

Scott:

The church also used Christmas as a time for religious reflection and charity.

Scott:

They encourage acts of kindness and giving to the less fortunate, A

Scott:

tradition that continues on to this day.

Scott:

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December twenty first,

Scott:

The winter solstice through January.

Scott:

In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large

Scott:

logs, which they would set on the fire.

Scott:

The people would feast until the log burnt out, which could

Scott:

take as many as twelve days.

Scott:

The Norse believed That each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf

Scott:

that will be born during the coming year.

Scott:

Interesting way to welcome in the twelve days of Christmas with an eel log.

Scott:

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe.

Scott:

At that time of year, most cattle were already slaughtered so they would not

Scott:

have to be fed during the winter for many.

Scott:

It was also only the only time of year where they had a supply of fresh meat.

Scott:

In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally

Scott:

fermented and ready for drinking.

Scott:

The reformation of the sixteenth century brought some

Scott:

Grinches to the party, though.

Scott:

Protestant reformers like Puritans saw Christmas's revelry

Scott:

as too pagan and frivolous.

Scott:

In fact, Christmas was actually banned in England for over a century.

Scott:

Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces overtook England in sixteen forty five.

Scott:

They vowed to rid England of decadence And as part of their

Scott:

effort, canceled Christmas.

Scott:

However, by popular demand, Charles The second was restored to the

Scott:

throne, and with him came the return of the popular holiday.

Scott:

But the Christmas Spirit couldn't be contained for long.

Scott:

By the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Christmas was back in full swing,

Scott:

fueled by a growing middle class and a romanticized vision of the holiday.

Scott:

This is when many of our modern traditions like Christmas trees, stockings,

Scott:

and Santa Claus began to take shape.

Scott:

Today, Christmas is a kaleidoscope of cultural influences.

Scott:

We have German Christmas markets, American carols and Scandinavian gnomes

Scott:

all nestled nestled under the tree together, and that's the beauty of it.

Scott:

Christmas is a holiday that adapts and evolves, reflecting the changing times and

Scott:

the diverse communities that celebrate it.

Scott:

Now here's a little bonus tip.

Scott:

Did you know that the Tradition of kissing under the mistletoe

Scott:

was actually has some pagan roots.

Scott:

The mistletoe plant was considered sacred by the druids, And they believed

Scott:

it possessed magical properties.

Scott:

So the next time you smooch under that magical mistletoe, remember,

Scott:

you're carrying on on a tradition that's thousands of years old.

Scott:

But what about that jolly old man with large belly and red nose?

Scott:

How did Santa Claus come to grace our modern day Christmas celebrations?

Scott:

Well, his tale begins not with reindeer and chimneys, but with the

Scott:

fourth century bishop named Nicholas.

Scott:

This kind and generous soul known for his secret gift giving to children and

Scott:

the poor became a saint after his death, and his legend spread throughout Europe,

Scott:

Eventually taking root in the Netherlands as Sinterklaas, a stern but benevolent

Scott:

figure who rewarded good children with treats and punish naughty ones with

Scott:

his sidekick, the fearsome Krampus.

Scott:

Fast forward to the nineteenth century in America where Sinterklaas Boss underwent

Scott:

a delightful makeover, and we have Clement Clark Moore, a poet who penned the iconic

Scott:

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Scott:

Here, Sinterklaas transformed into Santa Claus, A jovial twinkling

Scott:

eyed old elf who delivered presents by reindeer drawn sleigh.

Scott:

Moore's poem with its vivid imagery and playful rhyme solidified Santa's jolly

Scott:

persona in the American imagination.

Scott:

But Moore's words needed an artist to bring Santa to life.

Scott:

Enter Thomas Nast, the nineteenth century cartoonist who gave Santa

Scott:

his now familiar visual identity.

Scott:

Nast's illustration, Harper's Weekly, depicted Santa as a chubby, bearded man

Scott:

in a red suit forever etching this Merry image into the minds of generations.

Scott:

Over time, Santa's look evolved Further, Coca Cola ads in the nineteen

Scott:

thirties give him a rounder belly and a wider smile, solidifying the jolly

Scott:

grandfatherly figure we know today.

Scott:

Other cultures added their own touches from the white haired dead

Scott:

morose in Russia to the slender version of Santa Claus in Finland.

Scott:

But through it all, Santa's core traits, generosity, kindness, and

Scott:

holiday cheer have remained constant.

Scott:

Today, Santa Claus is more than just a Christmas figure.

Scott:

He's a global symbol of hope, wonder, and the joy of giving.

Scott:

He connects us to our childhood memories, fills our homes with laughter, and reminds

Scott:

us that even in the coldest winter, a little bit of magic can warm our hearts.

Scott:

So there you have it, folks.

Scott:

From pagan rituals to medieval feasts to the cozy traditions of

Scott:

today, Christmas has come a long way.

Scott:

It's a reminder that even though the world may change, the core

Scott:

values of Christmas, love, Hope and togetherness remain timeless.

Scott:

And jolly old Saint Nick may have humble beginnings, but his legacy speaks volumes.

Scott:

He's a testament to the power of storytelling, the magic of tradition,

Scott:

and the enduring human spirit.

Scott:

We hope you've enjoyed this Holly jolly history lesson, and now go

Scott:

forth and spread the Christmas cheer.

Scott:

Remember, the best gift you can give this holiday season is the joy of

Scott:

giving, The warmth of family and the belief that even the smallest act of

Scott:

kindness can make a big difference.

Scott:

Merry Christmas from the Talk With History team, and happy holidays.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for Talk With History
Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about traveling to historic locations

About your hosts

Profile picture for Scott B

Scott B

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of HistoryNewsletter.com
Profile picture for Jennifer B

Jennifer B

Former Naval Aviator turned Historian and a loyal Penn Stater. (WE ARE!) I earned my Masters in American History and graduate certificate in Museum Studies, from the University of Memphis.

The Talk with History podcast gives Scott and me a chance to go deeper into the details of our Walk with History YouTube videos and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at our history-inspired adventures.

Join us as we talk about these real-world historic locations and learn about the events that continue to impact you today!

Supporters of the show!

Thank you to everyone who supports the show and keeps us up and running. Doing this with your support means that we can continue to share history and historic locations for years to come!
Support Talk with History now
J
Jack B $5
Thank you for the great podcasts and for sharing your passion! Love hearing about the locations you visit.