Rutgers University, USA
Christmas as it is practiced today in the United States is as much a festival of consumerism as of religious rites. Much ado is made annually in the media over the “real” meaning of Christmas, though historically the holiday has had less to do with religion than is often thought today. This consumerism has had more to do with the popularity of the celebration in England and the United States than with religion, though religious and consumerist celebrations of the holiday developed in tandem into the modern Western Christmas festival, particularly since the seventeenth century.
Modern Christmas celebrations have roots in mid-winter festivals throughout Europe, most notably Saturnalia in Rome and Yul in Scandinavia. These festivals were raucous affairs that lasted from a few days to several weeks and typically involved rites and symbols meant to afford relief from the darkest and coldest days of the year during which they were held. These included evergreens, fire, and lavish feasting and drinking. In England and the United States in the nineteenth century, Christmas festivities turned from public festivals to domestic celebrations centered around family and consumption. The holiday quickly caught on as a family affair emphasizing children, food, and gift-giving following the publication of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol in 1843 and the circulation of images of the royal family in England celebrating ...