The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 during the time of, the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. A few years after that, Pope Julius I officially declared that December 25th was the official birthday of Jesus.
This date was the perfect solution to helping bring together the traditions of so many other cultures and religious groups in Europe, as the Winter Solstice was a date that had been celebrated for centuries. From the Germanic 12 Day Festival of Yule to the Roman Juvenalia, a feast that honoured children, so many of the traditions that are part of Christmas as we know it have ancient roots.
In North America, some First Nations group help mid-winter celebrations around the time of the Solstice. They marked this event with healing rituals, dancing and drumming ceremonies, and offerings of tobacco.
The Christmas Tree:
To celebrate some of these ancient festivals, evergreen trees and branches were brought into houses as decoration as they were seen as a sign of the upcoming spring, when the fields and orchards were green with budding flora.
In the 16th century, Germans began the tradition of erecting the Christmas tree when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. If trees were unavailable, some would build pyramids out of wood and decorate them with evergreens and candles.
In 1848 the Illustrated London News featured a drawing of a large Christmas tree with the royal family celebrating around it. The trend spread quickly across Britain and the commonwealth, where trees were decorated with candles, candy, oranges and other fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts.
Saint Nicolas has always been accepted as the predecessor to Santa Claus. According to tradition, or legend, he was born in Turkey. The stories of his acts of charity made him the patron saint of travelers and children (among others) in various countries. It was also believed that Saint Nicholas would leave little gifts, nuts, sweets, and dried fruit in the shoes of children who left them out for him on December 6th, which was said to be the day of his death.
These traditions were brought to North America by Dutch settlers, and by the early 19th century these stories blended with other legends and traditions giving way to the Santa Claus that is so familiar to people around the world now.
Christmas & the Children of Peace:
Many of the first members of the Children of Peace were members of the Society of Friends or “Quakers”. Quakers at this time did not celebrate Christmas. They believed that they should celebrate the birth of Jesus every day, not just once a year. They also believed that they should give new names to the days of the week and the months of the year since the old names were associated with ancient gods and goddesses. Sunday became, First Day; Monday became Second Day, and so on. January became First Month; February became Second Month, etc.
Christmas was one of those times that the Quakers and Children of Peace differed. The Children of Peace believed they should do something special to mark the birth of Christ. At 5:00 on Christmas morning, the Children of Peace got together at their Meeting House, south of the Temple, to put candles in every window and have breakfast together. Then they held a special service. With their organ, choir, and band of musicians, music must have been an important part of their celebration. After the service was over, they enjoyed another big meal before going home.
(Credits: history.com, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)