Especially for the Almost Famous Writer advent calendar RMA student (he insisted), cat lover, history encyclopedia and The Ultimate Bae Merlijn Veltman dove into the history of Christmas.
In a few days, the entire western hemisphere will be engulfed with the celebration of Christmas. While you may know and love everything about present day Christmas (as I am sure you do) the history of Christmas can be measured in millennia – starting with, potentially, your great-great-great-great-great-great-(etc)grandfather or mother (Eden insisted) who was a Germanic tribesman living in dense and dark forests in Germany. There, the ‘Yule’ feast was the first indication of Christmas as we know it.
Yule or Yuletide is a festival that was celebrated by Germanic peoples throughout history, most likely in celebration of the Wild Hunt, a belief in a ghostly group of hunters that pass by the villages, and the god Odin, the supreme god of the Germanic pantheon. Later, when the area was Christianised, the influence from the Yule festival became absorbed into Christian tradition. And that, is where the decorated tree in your living room comes from. Because these Germanic traditions of worshipping Gods and the forest, were combined with Christian traditions, that celebrated the birth of JC.
So now we know where Christmas came from. But, did you know that on Christmas, a lot of cool stuff has happened (besides you actually getting that fabulous present that was way too expensive but that you asked for anyway)? Let’s start with caleidoscopic cosmological coolness. Halley’s comet is well-known for its 74-79 year return trip to the skies, but did you know that it was discovered on the first day of Christmas? Edmund Halley, editor and publisher of Sir Isaac Newton, discovered the comet in 1682, but died before seeing it return. Johann Georg Palitzsch, an amateur astronomer re-discovered it in 1758, on December 25. Word has it, however, that ancient Mesopotamians already knew about the comet, calling it ‘a star which appears once in seventy years and makes the ship captains err.’ Who knows, maybe the star that led the Three Wise Kings to Bethlehem might have been Halley’s comet. Fascinating stuff, right? But that’s not all…
Christmas has known its share of vandalism too. On Christmas Eve 1826, the Grog Mutiny, also known as the Eggnog Riot, broke out in West Point, the US Military Academy. This was the epitome of a Christmas party getting out of hand, with supposedly alcohol-free Eggnog being in fact, really, really, alcoholic, which was strictly forbidden at West Point. But well, we cannot all stick to the rules, now can we… Vandalism was not only caused by Eggnog, but also by wounded nationalistic pride (yes, I know, does that ever happen?). The Stone of Scone, the traditional rock on which Scottish Queens (and Kings) were crowned had been in Westminster for generations (and was used for British coronation), when a group of Scottish students decided to steal it back. In this Johnny English-esque operation, the stone broke in half and was buried out in a random field. It later was returned and then given back to the Scottish by the English in order to appease them (in the spirit of Christmas of course).
In order to end this article on a happy note, the most well-known Christmas event was of course the Christmas Truce during World War 1 in 1914, in which German, British and French soldiers promptly decided to proclaim a truce and play a game of soccer together. The soldiers exchanged cards, cigarettes and cash, talking about their families and becoming the best of friends, before being called back to their trenches and proceeding, once more, to fire at each other.
I think we can all learn a valid lesson here: even if you hate each other’s guts and you want to fight a war, Christmas is a time for peace and friendship and love.
By Merlijn Veltman