Send me an E-mail
(Please, no questions
 about value.)

Instructions for sending photographs of your pieces with your question.

What is a crotal bell?

a Swiss cow bell
a Christmas bell
a sleigh bell
                     To see the answer

Christmas Collectibles
by Lissa and Dick Smith

A fact-filled guide to Christmas collectibles offers information on and full-color photographs of Yuletide items from the Victorian era to the present.

                                  More Books


Origins of Christmas

The celebration of Christmas as we know it today stems from the traditions of several different cultures.

Click on the title to view.

And look for other videos in selected articles.

Have Bob speak
 on antiques to your group or organization.

More Information

Can't find what
 you're looking for?

Go to our Sitemap

Find out what's coming in the
2024 Winter Edition

of the



Share pages of this ezine with your friends using the buttons provided with each article.

Download our
Decorative Periods and Styles Chart

Read our newest glossary:

Antique Furniture Terminology
 from A to Z

courtesy of AntiquesWorldUK

Videos have
come to

The Antiques

Expand your antiques experience.

Look for videos in various articles.

Just click on the
arrow to play.


Print Santa Doll

 The Origin of Christmas
by Bob Brooke


The first recorded incidence of Christmas being celebrated actually dates all the way back to Rome on December 25, 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. So it seems the Romans invented it, although there’s no specific person credited with having done so.

The nativity sequences included in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke prompted early Christian writers to suggest various dates for the anniversary. Although the gospels don’t indicate a date, early Christians connected Jesus to the Sun through the use of such phrases as "Sun of Righteousness." The Romans marked the winter solstice on December 25.

Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote there were several reasons for choosing December 25 as a date of celebration. It was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar—dies solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered sun”)—and it was nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox and a date linked to the conception of Jesus celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. In this way, he tried to make sense of the birth since a woman’s pregnancy usually lasts for nine months.

Despite the Romans having marked the date, Christmas was a relatively minor affair, which the Church didn’t celebrate with a specific liturgy until the 9th century, but it didn’t attain the liturgical importance of either Good Friday or Easter, the other two major Christian holidays until much later.

Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them, and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

But in Rome, where winters weren’t as harsh as those in the far north, people celebrated Saturnalia, a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, the Romans temporarily freed their slaves, treating them as equals. Business and schools closed so that everyone could participate in the holiday's festivities.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

The end of December was also a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, farmers had slaughtered most cattle and pigs, so they wouldn’t need to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year had finally fermented and was ready for drinking.

By celebrating Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders hoped that Christmas would be embraced by the public but gave up dictating how people should celebrate it. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religions. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The celebrations tended to be riotous, with binge-drinking, gluttony and other hedonism involved, and celebrants often going from door to door threatening vandalism if homeowners didn’t give them food and drink. Thus, Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.

In the Early Middle Ages, the Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the three kings, overshadowed Christmas Day. But the medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The 40 days before Christmas became the "Forty Days of St. Martin,” which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours), now known as Advent. In what was later to become Italy, people attached former Saturnalian traditions to Advent. Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas—lasting from December 25 to January 5—a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days.

The coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas of 800 helped promote the popularity of the holiday.

By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which guests ate 28 oxen and 300 sheep. The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular and was originally performed by a group of dancers who sang, consisting of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form. "Misrule"—drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling—was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, people exchanged gifts on New Year's Day and drank a special Christmas ale.

Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy, holly, and other evergreens. Gift-giving usually occurred between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. The annual indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, and card playing escalated in England, and by the 17th century the Christmas season featured lavish dinners, elaborate masques, and pageants.

In 1607, King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. It was during the Reformation in 16th- and 17th-century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

Charles Dickens presented Christmas in its more modern form in his classic novel, A Christmas Carol. Published in 1843, it became an instant best-seller and changed people’s view of Christmas to a time of kindness and charitable acts and a time for families to be together.

The Victorians took his view of the festive season to their hearts, with new traditions such as Christmas trees----introduced by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert— Christmas cards and gift-giving replaced the excesses of old.

< More Special Features                                                         Next Article >

Antiques Q&A

Antiques and More on

The Antiques Almanac on Facebook

No antiques or collectibles
are sold on this site.

How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

Read an Excerpt

Auction News
Get up to the minute news of antiques auctions around the country and the world.

Also see
The Auction Directory

Antiques News
Read breaking news stories from the world of antiques and collectibles.

Art Exhibitions
Search for art exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world.

Home | About This Site | Antiques | Collectibles | Antique Tips | Book Shop | Antique Trivia | Antique Spotlight | Antiques News  Special Features | Caring for Your Collections | Collecting | Readers Ask | Antiques Glossaries | Resources | Contact
Copyright ©2007-2023 by Bob Brooke Communications
Site design and development by BBC Web Services