In A Christmas Carol, what does it mean to celebrate Christmas? The characters all enjoy parties and eat good food. But they also talk about how important it is to give to others during the holiday season. For almost all the characters, Christmas isn’t just about receiving. Giving is important, too. Did you know that Christmas has been celebrated many different ways for the past 2,000 years? I have journeyed far and wide and have seen many different Christmases. Let’s take a look!

It’s hard to say exactly when Christmas began. In many countries, people have been having celebrations in late December for thousands of years. This is because the winter solstice—the day of the year with the fewest hours of sunlight—happens in December, and people needed a holiday to cheer them up during the darkest part of the year. In Rome, people celebrated a holiday called Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They ate, drank and took vacations from work and school.

Some Romans stopped believing in Saturn and instead became Christians, but they still wanted to have a celebration. Christians weren’t sure exactly what day Jesus was born, but they decided December 25 was a good day to celebrate because it was at the same time of year as their old holidays and they could enjoy the same fun activities. As Christianity spread throughout the world, so did Christmas. One place where Christmas was not celebrated was America. When pilgrims first came, they wanted to avoid decadence, or too much partying. In Boston, people could actually be fined for celebrating Christmas! Later on, Americans were influenced by two major works of literature that helped redefine Christmas and make it the holiday we know today.

The first was Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, a series of stories that tell about Christmas being celebrated in an English manor house, where a squire invites peasants to dine with him. This helped establish the idea that Christmas was not just about eating or drinking a lot, but also about sharing the holiday with those less fortunate. The second piece of literature was A Christmas Carol, which was originally a short novel, not a play. A Christmas Carol also helped people see Christmas as a family holiday, and as a time for generosity and giving.

If you celebrate Christmas, there’s a good chance you think of the holiday in the same way that Washington Irving and Charles Dickens did. Can you believe that these two books from long ago had such an impact on our world today?