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Who invented Christmas, how long has the festival been celebrated and how was Charles Dickens involved?

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Christmas is coming, complete with all the festivities, presents, food, drink and general goodwill that we’ve all become accustomed to at this time of year.

But let’s not forget about the origins of the festival while we’re busy unwrapping presents, watching festive TV specials, tucking into turkey etc – with the purpose of the day, from a religious point of view, being about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

Not that the day has always been celebrated in its current form, mind – but just who did invent Christmas as we know it?

Let’s take a look back through history…

Who invented Christmas?

OK, so Christmas as we know it didn’t start to be celebrated the second Jesus was born – and it’s not clear that he was actually born on 25 December either.

The first recorded incidence of Christmas being celebrated actually dates all the way back to the Roman Empire in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine – so technically the Romans invented it, although there’s no specific person who is credited with having done so.

There are a number of theories as to why 25 December should have been chosen, with one suggesting that it coincided with the Winter Solstice and the ancient Roman pagan midwinter festivals Saturnalia (which honoured the Roman god Saturn) and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the festival marking the solstice).

It’s also thought it might have been chosen as it’s exactly nine months after 25 March – the date of the Spring Equinox – which was chosen as the date for God’s creation of Adam, and therefore seemed like a fitting date to choose for Christ’s conception.

Despite the Romans having marked the date, Christmas was a relatively minor affair, and was not celebrated with a specific liturgy until the ninth Century.

Meanwhile celebrations tended to be riotous, with binge-drinking, gluttony and other hedonism involved, and celebrants often going from door to door threatening vandalism if they were not given food and drink.

How was Charles Dickens involved?

Charles Dickens is given some credit for giving us Christmas in its more modern form thanks to his classic novel A Christmas Carol.

Published in 1843, it became an instant best-seller, and changed people’s view of Christmas to a time when kindness and charitable acts were seen as traditional, as well as placing the emphasis on the festival as a time for families to be together.

The Victorians took his view of the festive season to their hearts, with new traditions such as Christmas trees – which were introduced by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert – Christmas cards and gift-giving replacing the excesses of old.

The story was chronicled in the 2017 movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, which starred Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as Dickens and centred around the writing of A Christmas Carol.

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