Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Monday 29th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

The Inspiration of Christmas

Despite the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus altering dramatically throughout history, the ideas underpinning the annual Christmas festival have persistently provided a source of human inspiration.

Although the eating, dancing and gift-giving which epitomized Christmas celebrations throughout the High Middle Ages closely resembles our current festivities, Christian understandings of how Christmas should be celebrated has changed continuously over time. The ban of Christmas imposed by the protestant Parliament of Scotland in 1640, which resulted in Christmas only becoming a Scottish public holiday in 1958, exemplifies how Christmas has been a religiously contentious issue in the British Isles for centuries.

Moreover, statistics compiled by the Centre for Economics & Business Research have emphasized the importance of the modern commercial Christmas to the British economy: they estimated that the Yuletide economy generated an enormous £12.5 billion in 2000, a figure which accounts for 2.1% of total annual consumer spending. Whilst religious and commercial interpretations of Christmas can provide conflicting versions of the true meaning of the festival, both rely upon the enduring inspirational quality of Christmas. This leads us to the question of why does the celebration of Jesus’ birth have such an inspirational quality?

Rather unexpectedly, I found my answer to this question whilst completing last year’s annual viewing of Richard Curtis’ holiday staple Love Actually. Just before I moved to make yet another cup of tea during the advert break, the striking image of a young, entrenched World War 1 soldier flashed across the screen. The Sainsbury’s ad proceeded to depict the extraordinary events of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when during the festive period a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires occurred across the Western Front. Forgetting their differences, Allied and German soldiers entered no-man’s land to meet, exchange gifts and play football. Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s explanation that “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…” perfectly summarizes the emotive effect the common bond of Christmas had upon both sides of the trenches in the Great War.

This incredible event provides insight into why Christmas has consistently proved such an inspirational topic. Irrespective of religious debates and material gifts, throughout history Christmas has symbolized a period of time when people should demonstrate their goodwill to their fellow man. Therefore, the inspirational quality of Christmas results from its fundamental appeal to the best of qualities in human nature.

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