*** holiday attire: Christmas in North America

Christmas in North America

Christmas North America
Figure 1.--Here we see American children playing ring around the rosy in front of the Christmas tree. We know nothing about the image. It looks go us to be a staged, possibly commercial photograph. It looks to be taken at about the turn-of-the-20th century. We are unsure if this was a popular game to play at Christmas. At first glance the children look to be girls, but we are not positive about this.

Celebrating Christ's birth for Christians presented a problem in that no one knows when Jesus was born. It almost certainly was not December. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 throughout Christendom, as the birth of Christ primarily because of the importance of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of Saturn the god of Agriculture, in Roman culture. Besides adopting some of the feartures of Saturnalia, there are many non-religious customs and practices which have developed over the years. These customs are in many cases peculiar to different countries. Germany has played an especially important role, in part because of the Christams traditions Prince Albert brought from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, many of which have since been past on to America. Many modern Christmas traditions are based on these English Victorian traditions. Here are the many Christmas traditions we knpow of around the world. We hope that HBC readers will tell us something about Christmas traditions in their countries.


Contrary to widely held views, America is a deeply religious country. Probably more Americans attend Church than the the citizens of any European country. Thus the religious nature of Amristmas is important in many American families. Undeniably, however, Santa Claus now plays a central role in an American child's Christmas. American children diligently take their Christmas lists to Santa Clause. Some now even have computerized lists. Some American children in fact see Santa and his raindeer as a much more important figure than Jesus. Given the media blitz, parents have to work card to maintain traditions beyound the commercial extravanganza.



Christmas has traditionally been celebrated differently in Canada by French and Engish speaking families. An Anglophone Christmas in Canada is similar to that of England. In Canada, from 1875 onwards, Christmas lost its essentially religious character, at least for Anglophones and the upper middle class. Little by little it became a community festival which gave rise to much family merry-making. New customs began to take root. Henceforth, the decorated Christmas tree, the cr�che with its santons or plaster figures, gifts and the Christmas "r�veillon" became part of family tradition. For the majority of Francophones, however, this transformation did not occur until after the First World War. Good old "P�re No�l" moved very quickly from his minor role, becoming the pivotal figure for many community events. Francophones, however, incorporated these new practices into their culture much later. After the First World War, increasing commercial advertising drew Francophones into the dizzy festive activities. During the 1930s, the working classes also joined this happy Christmas rush. HBC suspects that American Christmas trends must have leaked across the border, especially sence World War II, but we have no specific information on this. We suspect that siunce War the growing American influence and rising importnce of the mass media has helped dilute the formerly substantial differences between Christmasses in English and French speaking families.


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Created: December 27, 1998
Last updated: 7:19 AM 2/28/2008