The history of Christmas

Ancient cultures had mid-winter celebrations that tied in with the solstice and with fertility rites. These usually included a feast because they would slaughter some of their cattle. By doing this they would reduce the amount of feed that their cattle needed over the winter and the beef would last longer over the cold months. The Yule Log comes from one light festivals held by the Scandinavian people to keep watch for and welcome the sun back.

Various cultures, including the Egyptians, Romans and early Europeans believed that plants held special powers, including protection from evil and healing. They would use evergreens and palms to decorate their homes. Martin Luther is credited with the first Christian Christmas tree in the 16th century. He wanted to recreate the beauty of the snow and starlight on the trees he saw as he was on a walk. Many people, especially in England and the Puritan colonies, actually resisted the tree as a "heathen tradition" that shouldn't be connected to the birth of Christ. It wasn't until the mid 1800's that it began to become acceptable again when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a Christmas tree.

Santa Claus has a long history, going back to St. Nicolas, who was believed to have been born in 280 A.D. He was known as a generous man who helped those in need. The early church set aside December 6th to celebrate him. Over the years other cultures had similar generous men, such as Kris Kringle from the Swiss and German people. The various traditions blended together to develop the modern image of Santa Claus, which was solidified in the poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in 1822.

The birth of Jesus is the focus of Christmas for Christians around the world. While many historians doubt that He was born in December, Pope Julius I chose December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is believed it was chosen to compete with the pagan rituals that were prevalent at the time, in an attempt to draw attention away from the pagan rituals for those newly converted to Christianity.

Red star and Christmas ball.

There were even times when Christmas was illegal. Oliver Cromwell attempted to remove Christmas from England, however Charles II reversed that decision. The Puritans in Boston actually had it declared illegal from 1659 to 1681. Other communities in the colonies, like Jamestown, still continued to celebrate Christmas. Christmas was finally declared a federal holiday on June 26, 1870.

Christmas is a real patchwork of traditions. It has gone through periods of controversy and division. Even today, people debate on how, and when, to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas Dinner Menu Ideas

Every family has its favorite dishes for the holidays, traditions that have been passed down year after year. Maybe it is time to spice things up and introduce some new recipes or at least make some variations to some favorites. It's a good idea to incorporate family favorites from your spouse's family, if you can get them to share the recipes, especially if you can't get together with that side of the family. Here are a few different ideas to help you find your own groove this holiday season.

Appetizers - Set out few appetizers, so people can snack while dinner is finishing up. Try to choose some healthy things to munch on, like fruit and veggies or cheese and crackers if the main course. It's easy to set up a nice tray; even just a foil lined pizza pan covered in clear plastic with Christmas designs on it can dress up the table.

Side Dishes - Are you going to serve the traditional roast with stuffing or mashed potatoes? Try some souped up stuffing. Take some precooked chicken, or left over turkey from Thanksgiving, picked off the bone and then mix that with your favorite cream soup - chicken, mushroom or celery go well - and some sour cream, top with stuffing, add a little water and bake according to the directions on the stuffing box.

Other side dishes can feature different vegetables, noodles or potatoes. You could also have some fruit side dishes, like baked apples. If it’s a family gathering where everyone brings a different dish, then try out that recipe you've been wanting to make but haven't.

Main Dishes - While a ham or turkey may be traditional for Christmas dinner, how about a roast? It's simple to cook a nice, moist roast using a slow cooker. Place the meat in the slow cooker, add some broth or au jus, some favorite spices and let it cook while you are enjoying the family. Add some vegetables; simply select ones that cook well in the slow cooker and there is one less dish to make.

Desserts - Everybody loves desserts, especially at the holidays. We tend to overindulge in them. Try to find some desserts that are still delicious, yet a little less filling. Gelatin, especially if you make red or green, is always a hit around the holidays. Add fruit or make it into squares or even fun shapes with cookie cutters.

Instead of having very heavy desserts try having an angel food cake. Adding red and green candy or sugar sprinkles gives it a festive look. Have tiny size cakes or brownies cut into bite-size squares. Have a variety of bite-size desserts, such as mints, chocolate covered nuts or peanut butter balls such as buckeyes. Try something different such as turrón cut into small squares. This will give guests a variety and help curb the need to overindulge as well.

Christmas is rich int traditions for little people.

Don't forget to leve milk and cookies to say thank you, and a carrot or two for his reindeers.

St. Nicolas is not out of work, as Belgium children still await his gifts eagerly every December.

Other countries look forward to different Christmas gift bearers. Children in Spain, for instance, lay their shoes the eve of 5th January expecting to fin them filled with presents the Three Wise Men brought. Camels are the preferred method of transport for The Three Wise Men, not reindeers, so leave cookies and oats.