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Home UK Christmas World Archive The Modern History of Christmas

The Modern History of Christmas

Most of us are familiar with the traditional history of Christmas; the Immaculate Conception, the three wise men and their journey, the baby Jesus.  But perhaps more interesting is the modern history of Christmas, where all the modern ideas and folklore comes from. You might be surprised at how old some of our so-called modern views of Christmas are, and even more surprised at how recent too.

close up of a christmas tree with red and gold decorations

The fir tree that we all associate with Christmas has become so synonymous with the festive time of year that we rarely heard it called anything else.  Kids will point them out in parks in July and call them Christmas trees, but it wasn’t until 1835 that the term was even heard of.  Undoubtedly people were using them prior to this time, but they were called fir trees rather than Christmas trees.  Just twenty years later, Franklin Pierce became the first President of the United States to bring a Christmas tree into the Whitehouse.  But, we’re proud to say, that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert displayed a tree at Windsor Castle prior to this which started the trend in England and eventually worldwide.

windsor castle at christmas

From this point on, Christmas became an explosion of festivities.  1857 saw James Lord Pierpont write a song entitled ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’ which we know and love today by the name of ‘Jingle Bells.’  By 1870 Christmas had been declared a federal holiday in the United States and all but Oklahoma had legalised the date, with the southern state finally joining the party in 1907. 

Santa Claus as we think of him, dressed in red with a large white beard over his considerable frame, wasn’t seen until as recently as 1931.  Who do we have to thank for this artistic depiction of St. Nicholas?  Soft drink giant Coca Cola are largely to thank for the commercialisation of the character who has become so entwined with the modern celebration. 

old fashioned christmas coca cola advert with santa and children

The North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) exhibited their festive cheer in 1951 when they started tracking Santa, using hotlines, radios and newspapers.  They would continue to delight children with these exciting updates year after year until 1997 when they upgraded their service to include the internet.  This came shortly after the concept of the e-card first came about (1994.)

By the year 2000, the average person was spending upwards of £500 every Christmas and this showed in the box office figures for ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ which racked up well over £170m in its short life on the big screen.  Elf would follow in 2003 with sales of more than £110m and the Polar Express with similar numbers a year later.

the polar express train

Make sure that you’re ready for this year’s festivities, UK Christmas World run sales all year round to help you stock up on decorations for the big day.

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