From winter solstice festivals to Thai celebrations: Unveiling the history of Christmas

Photo by Guille Álvarez via Unsplash

Folks all around the globe immerse themselves in Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations and festivities during the winter month of December each year with no exception. The atmosphere filled with lively celebrations, joyful reunions, and new beginnings serves as a remedy for the exhaustion accumulated throughout the year.

Get ready for the festive season by going back in time to relive the history of Christmas and discover how Thai people celebrate the festival!

The origin of Christmas

Christmas is held to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the annual celebration comes every December 25 of the year. Nevertheless, the actual birthdate of Jesus has not been confirmed as it is specifically not mentioned in the Bible. So, how did this date become associated with Jesus’ birthday?

Jesus birthday Nativity scene
Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Tracing back to ancient times, several cultures across the world marked the winter solstice with their unique celebrations. People took a chance when the cold and snow forced them to pause agricultural activities to spend time together and engage in group activities.

The roots of Christmas are believed to be involved with the winter solstice celebrations, combining elements of Roman paganism and Christianity. The pre-Christian festival in Rome, known as Saturnalia, is considered the beginning of Christmas.

Christmas history
Photo by Cris DiNoto via Unsplash

During Saturnalia, the pagan community played games, feasted, and exchanged gifts. More specifically, slaves would no longer work and they would enjoy a social status equal to any other citizens.

These practices in the Saturnalia were later adopted by Christianity after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century. This prompted church officials to initiate the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and Julius later selected December 25 which was the same day as the Saturnalia festival to be Jesus’s birthdate and Christmas Day.

The beginning of the Christmas tree

It is not hard to guess why the pine tree was selected to be the symbol of Christmas. The festival takes place during the winter when all of the plants enter their hibernation, but pine is one of the trees that does not lose its green and freshness.

This evergreen tree then was selected to represent the Paradise Tree in the Eden Garden. Its triangular shape is also said to represent the Trinity, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Christmas celebration and history
Photo by Jonathan Chng via Unsplash

There was no record or clear history of who was the first person to decorate a pine tree to make the Christmas tree, but it was believed that Christmas tree decoration started in Germany around the 14th to the 15th century.

At that time, the pine was paraded around the town as an advertisement inviting people to visit the church for plays about stories in the bible. During the time, this was the way to present information and stories on the Bible to people who could not read.

Christmas history Christmas tree origin
Photo by Arun Kuchibhotla via Unsplash

The pine then became a decoration for the play scene in the church. German people later started having pine in their homes and decorated them with religious-related items like Christmas stars or bells. The Christmas tree decorations nowadays do not always have a religious meaning but it has turned into something more creative.

The decorated pine was brought to the UK in the 18th century by Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III, and reportedly became the first Christmas tree.

From winter solstice festivals to Thai celebrations: Unveiling the history of Christmas | News by Thaiger
Photo via Charlotte Stories

The tree decoration activity was popular in the royal court and among wealthy people until the mid-18th century when a newspaper published a picture of Queen Victoria, her German Husband Prince Albert, and their young children with a background of Christmas trees.

Residents started having their trees at their homes, and the colonization made the Christmas tree popular across the world.

Evolution of Santa Claus

The exact identity of Santa Claus remains a mystery today, with various beliefs about the origin and evolution of this iconic figure.

The most widely accepted theory regarding Santa Claus’s origin is connected to Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was believed to have lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries. He was renowned for his kindness and love for children and he received a considerable inheritance from his parents’ deaths which he used to assist people.

However, there are multiple representations of Saint Nicholas in Christian history, so no one could point out for certain who was mentioned exactly.

Odin Santa
Photo via The Viking Oregon

Some theories propose alternative origins for Santa Claus. Some suggest a connection to Saturn or Cronos, the figures celebrated in pagan culture during the Saturnalia festival. There are also other speculations that Santa Claus may be linked to Odin, the god of war and death, due to similarities in character and travelled across the sky with a sleigh-like object.

The modern portrayal of Santa Claus, as we know him today, is attributed to the Coca-Cola Company. The brand used a picture of Santa in its advertisements with the colour red and built up the appearance of Santa with which we are familiar today.

Santa in Coca-Cola advertisement
Photo via Coca-Cola United

Christmas celebration in Thailand

Christmas celebration in Thailand dates back to the Ayuthaya period according to the former President of the Catholic Press of Thailand and former President of St. John’s University Council, Chainarong Montianwichianchai.

Chainarong stated that the Christmas celebration took place in the church in the country, but he did not mention the number of Thai people who participated in those events.

At the present day, aside from the Christian communities who celebrate Christmas Day with a religious context at the churches across Thailand, the other Thais also celebrate the festival as they consider it the best time for family and friend gatherings.

Christmas trees can be found almost everywhere in Thailand, especially at shopping malls and some Thais also set up a Christmas tree with decorations in their homes. Several government departments will have lively trees at their offices as well.

Christmas tree Bangkok
Photo via Facebook/ CentralWorld

For those who do not own a Christmas tree, they would install lights around their houses, trees, and even spirit houses in front of their residences. This makes the spirit house look bright like a Christmas tree with a twist of the Thai style. A Thai photographer, Phonsathorn Boontoe, launched a photo collection last year called Is That Christmas Tree? to share his experience of the one time that he mistook a spirit shrine as a Christmas tree.

Christmas tree in Thailand
Photo by Phonsatorn Boontoe

Christmas Day is not announced as a national holiday in Thailand, but several companies take this a chance to throw a party that allows their employees to exchange gifts with their colleagues and feast together. Groups of friends will also swap gifts and enjoy meals together.

One of the biggest and most popular Christmas events takes place in the Tha Rae district in the Isaan province of Sakon Nakhon. According to the information shared by The Cloud, 90% of residents in the area are Catholic, so the district throws a big celebration called Star Parade every year.

Star Parade Christmas Thailand Tha Rae Sakon
Photo via Facebook/ ไปเรื่อย – Eat on

As one of the important symbols for the nativity of Jesus, Tha Rae district will be decorated with stars from the beginning of December and residents would craft portable star lamps to carry and parade on December 23 or 24 each year.

Star Parade Thailand
Photo via Facebook/ ไปเรื่อย – Eat on

The festival later grew bigger, and residents started creating huge stars in various designs, bought them in their cars, and paraded the decorations around. The celebration also includes nativity plays, performances, and street food markets.

Christmas is one of the festivals that people all around the globe look forward to and it is no different in Thailand. Regardless of religion, everyone can unanimously agree that this is the perfect time of the year to spend time with friends and family.

EventsThailand News

Petch Petpailin

Petpailin, or Petch, is a Thai translator and writer for The Thaiger who focuses on translating breakingThai news stories into English. With a background in field journalism, Petch brings several years of experience to the English News desk at The Thaiger. Before joining The Thaiger, Petch worked as a content writer for several known blogging sites in Bangkok, including Happio and The Smart Local. Her articles have been syndicated by many big publishers in Thailand and internationally, including the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Bangkok Post. She is a news writer who stops reading news on the weekends to spend more time cafe hopping and petting dwarf shrimp! But during office hours, you can find Petch on LinkedIn and you can reach her by email at petch@thethaiger.com.

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