National Geographic : 2005 Dec
GEOGRAPHICA CULTURE Christmas Past/ D oes a winter gathering full of excessive eating and drinking sound familiar? It's actually how ancient Romans honored their god Saturn-and it's one of the roots of modern Christ mas celebrations. As the holiday evolved, it was still too rowdy for some. In colonial Massachusetts, December 25 was just another day. It had to be: Puritans associated Christmas celebrations with pagan rituals and imposed a fine on revelers. It wasn't until the 1800s that many Yuletide customs Americans know today became common. European immigrants to the United States brought with them traditions of Christ mas trees and St. Nicholas. That fourth-century holy man was popularized in 1809 by writer Washington Irving in A History of New York. A jolly image was reinforced by Clement Moore's 1822 poem about the night before Christmas. In the 20th century, Christmas customs went global. Though less than one percent of its pop ulation is Christian, Japan has embraced all the trappings of Christmas. And Santa has ridden the coattails of consumerism into Russia, where a folk figure named Grandfather Frost has traditionally reigned during the holidays. Today Russians keep Grandfather Frost in their hearts, and Santa in their stores. -Whitney Dangerfield NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * DECEMBER 2005 1863 Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly begins to shape San ta's modern look (art above from 1881). © PARAMOUNT PICTURES 1941 The song "White Christmas" debuts. The best selling Christmas tune ever, it inspired the 1954 movie (above). - 354 A Roman alma nac lists December 25 as Christ's birthday. Centuries pass before the date is widely recognized. - 1848 Queen Victo ria'sWindsor Castle Christmas tree (below) sets a trend for holiday greenery. BETTMANN/CORBIS - 1870 Christmas becomes a federal holiday in the United States. -- 1931 Rockefeller Center's tree distracts from its construction debris; a New Yorktra dition is born (below). STANHONDA,AFP/GETTYIMAGES - 1989 Berlin Wall falls. The ban on observing Christmas is later lifted In former communist countries. 2003 Christmas traditions have spread to Japan, where a robot leads carols (left) at a holiday concert.