The history of Christmas can be divided into two major sections, modern and ancient. The origins of Christmas involve many different pagan holidays, festivals and events. The modern history of Christmas didn’t start until the 19th Century, with the help of Washington Irving’s book The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon and Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
Once the English had been defeated in the revolutionary war, many of the old English customs including Christmas were no longer observed and practiced. In fact December 25, 1789 was not a holiday and the newely formed congress was in session
Life in America in the 1800’s was filled with class conflicts and turmoil. The masses of this time were dissatisfied with high unemployment and gang violence in their daily lives. In 1828 the New York City Police force was called in by the City Council to quell a Christmastime riot. This event caused the upper class members of society to look for a way to put and end to the violence and stabilize society.
The stories in Washington Irving’s book were about an English Manor House celebrating the Christmas Holiday. Sketches in the book show a squire inviting peasants into his home to celebrate the holiday. Both the peasants and squire were able to intermingle without any of the class struggles present in America at the time. Many historians debate that Irving invented the history of Christmas, by implying the traditions in the book were currently in use in Europe.
In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. The books message of redemption, charity and goodwill towards others, resonated with the people of both England and the United States. A period of enlightenment in child development was underway and Christmas afforded them a perfect opportunity to spoil children with both attention and gifts.
As Christmas started to become a major family holiday in the United States, the people looked to the ancient rituals of Celtic and Norse traditions, and borrowed many customs involving the Christmas Tree, the Yule log, Christmas cards, and gift giving, and invented a uniquely American holiday. On June 26, 1870, Congress declared Christmas a national Holiday.