The celebration of Christmas in Early Modern Europe underwent a significant transformation in the second half of the seventeenth century. Even after the Protestant Reformation, European Christmas traditions maintained numerous features of their medieval practices, such as carnivalesque celebrations, processions, masks, and riotous behaviour. This changed during the seventeenth century. Popular carnivalesque Christmas plays were prohibited and replaced with a more internalized devotion that emphasized the individual’s relationship with the newborn Child. This transformation was part of a larger paradigm shift in seventeenth-century religiosity, which replaced external and physical displays of piety with internalized devotional practices. These shifts also included new theologies of corporeality and gender, which likewise had an impact on the ways in which Christmas was celebrated. The theological shifts correlate with the rejection of the carnivalesque in the Early Modern period, as it was analysed by Mikhail Bakhtin.
Most of these changes took place in the 1670s and 1680s. Schütz’s Christmas Historia – which was composed before 1664 – represents a transitional phase and retains some earlier views of Christmas. The most obvious example is the Kindelwiegen (rocking of the child), the physicality of which was highly suspicious to theologians in the later seventeenth century. Schütz not only refers to this practice but incorporates it in the texture of his music.