As we come together to celebrate Christmas this week, many of us assume we are experiencing a holiday steeped in centuries of well-grounded tradition. Yet, few understand that Christmas as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. Our present-day festivities have evolved for hundreds of years and though Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ, centuries ago it was a pagan holiday.

The Winter Solstice was celebrated by early Europeans before Christ was born. The end of the year was when the cattle were slaughtered, the wine and beer was fully fermented and people celebrated with lavish feast. Pagan gods were honored and it was at times a carnival atmosphere.

Early Christianity eventually replaced the pagan festivities by naming Christmas 25th as Christ's birth yet as the Christian holiday evolved, the Puritans viewed Christmas as evil and decadent leading to the cancellation of Christmas in the 1600's.

The Pilgrims followed the beliefs of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell. As English separatists, the Pilgrims denounced Christmas and Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston in the mid 1600's.

The celebration of Christmas ebbed and flowed for centuries and it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that it truly settled in to the holiday that it is today.

And so you ask, what does this have to do with genealogy? It is important to understand our customs and family traditions and learn where they came from. Our Christmas holiday looks nothing like the holiday our ancestors celebrated; yet I suspect there are fragments of family traditions plucked from past generations. And the holiday you experience today will look quite different than what your future descendents will experience a hundred years from now.

It is important to occasionally stop to see where our customs came from. This knowledge will provide a greater appreciation for our present. And by learning how our ancestors celebrated Christmas, we can gain insight on how our present customs stem from our ancestor's traditions.

We are constantly evolving. That is what makes genealogy so powerful. It is truly an avenue for self-awareness.

Have a wonderful holiday and keep searching for answers,



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