The tradition of winter festivals is a long-standing one. Many civilisations believed that the cold and dark of winter was a time when their Gods were in battle with enemies, and they would hold celebrations in order to help their deities win. Scandinavia, where the concept of a ‘Yuletide’ originally evolved, would experience a period of several days where the sun did not show at all in the depth of winter, and would hold a festival in order to herald its reappearance. The winter solstice was also the most practical time for feasts to be held: cattle which could not be fed through the winter were slaughtered in the late autumn, and as a result the winter would be the one time when European peasants were most likely to have a stock of fresh meat, which needed to be either salted, or eaten. Equally the beer which had been brewed in the autumn would be just ready to drink by the time that the winter festivals came around. It is therefore no surprise that by the time of Christianity there was already an established history of festivals which were held in late December. One of the most notable celebrations was the Roman Saturnalia – a hedonistic festival where friends would be visited and presents exchanged. However, the 25th of December was also sacred to the Persian religion of Mithraism, as the birthday of their God.The early Christian Church did not celebrate the birth of Christ, preferring to concentrate on his death and resurrection at Easter. Christmas may have been celebrated from as early as 98AD, but it was only in 350AD that Pope Julius I declared Christmas to be the 25th of December. The date of Christ’s birth is not actually mentioned in the Bible, and the presence of shepherds grazing their sheep on the hillsides has led many biblical scholars to suggest that Christ must have been born during the spring. However, the choice of the 25th of December has influenced the development of the Christmas festival irreversibly. Many of the traditions associated with winter solstice festivals seamlessly became part of the Western tradition of Christmas time. Over the centuries many have tried to revert to a more solemn celebration of Christ’s birth: Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas after the events of the English Civil War, disgusted by the behaviour of common people on what was supposed to be a religious festival. The puritans in Boston even declared Christmas illegal for a period in the 17th century, and there was a fine for anyone who celebrated the occasion. Although Christmas would not become a federal holiday until 1870 in the US, the traditions surrounding Christmas developed and grew during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to become the Christmas that we, and the shopping centres of the world, celebrate today.