Christmas In A Geographic Perspective

Merry Christmas to those reading this. Merry Christmas!!

Christmas is an important day for Christians all over the world. Christmas is about celebrating and commemorating the birth of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The holiday is about Jesus Christ.



Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem today is a city of 25,266 people. It is located 6.2 miles (10 km) south of Jerusalem. The birthplace of Christ is located in what is now the West Bank, Palestine, on the border with Israel.


(Photo: Bethlehem)

The birthplace of Christ is important because of some of what Christmas is associated with in the modern day. For starters, Christmas is often associated, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, with snow. Many often wonder “will we get a white Christmas?” . Christmas is often associated with snow. December 25 is when it’s celebrated. However, not everywhere in the world gets a white Christmas. This is certainly the case for Bethlehem.

Bethlehem as a Mediterranean climate. Quite fitting given its location in the Levant. Bethlehem has a climate similar to southern Italy. Winters in Bethlehem are mild and rainy. Snow is a rarity, if at all. But even with the rain, there are still days when the sun comes out during the winter.


(Photo: Area near Jerusalem)

In alot of Christmas movies and TV shows where the theme is Christmas, snow is often featured, at least in the United States of America. Programs that feature Frosty The Snow man, Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer. Neither of which have anything to do with Christmas. Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer was created as a fictional character for a department store. Robert L. May created the character for Montgomery Ward department store in 1937. The use of reindeer as a symbol of Christmas goes further back though. Frosty The Snowman was created in 1950.

Let’s have a biogeography lesson. The reindeer is not found anywhere in the Middle East. It is certainly not found in Bethlehem. The reindeer is found in Scandinavia and the boreal forests of Russia. In North America, it’s known as the caribou. The caribou is concentrated mainly in Canada, particularly northern Canada in the boreal forests. Some are known to live in the far northern parts of the USA, such as Alaska, parts of Washington state and Idaho. The reindeer was domesticated by Saamis in Scandinavia, used as draft animals in the way horses are used. It was in Scandinavia that the reindeer was used as a symbol of Christmas. It is also fitting that the North Pole became associated with Santa Claus and Christmas.


Map showing range of the reindeer/caribou



Photo of caribou in Alaska.


(Former President Jimmy Carter walking towards a snow man built by some children, January 1978, Washington DC)



Santa Claus came out the stories about St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop born in Patara, in what is now Turkey. lore was brought to the USA by Dutch immigrants. Stories about Sinterklaas delivering presents, and this developed into Santa Claus.


Painting of St. Nicholas, painted in 17th century Russia.



(Artist drawing of Santa Claus,circa late 19th century/early 20th century.)

In much of the southern USA and , creating a large snow man, at least to the specifications of Frosty The Snowman, would be a rarity. It would be unlikely in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco as well (a fact demonstrated in a Brady Bunch Christmas episode, set in Los Angeles). A snow man of large proportions would be commonplace in the Midwest, northeastern USA, or the Rocky Mountains regions. In cities like Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville, Charleston (SC),Miami, Tampa, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, basically, cities in the southeast, the warmer parts of the southwest, and many parts of Texas, a white Christmas isn’t likely. Most certainly not likely in south Florida.

Alot of what is associated with Christmas in popular culture is a product of geography in North America and parts of northern Europe. Christmas, as it is celebrated by those who are Protestant and Catholic Christians, is celebrated worldwide on December 25. Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer, which have nothing to do with the actual meaning of Christmas, developed out of places with cold, snowy winters.  It is an interesting analysis in biogeography, in human geography, the migration of people, and how traditions can be shaped by the environment one lives in.

Merry Christmas!!

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