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Christmas

Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. The date of the celebration is traditional, and is not considered to be his actual date of birth. Christmas festivities often combine the commemoration of Jesus' birth with various secular customs, many of which have been influenced by earlier winter festivals.

In most places around the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25. Christmas Eve is the preceding day, December 24. In the United Kingdom and many countries of the Commonwealth, Boxing Day is the following day, December 26. In Catholic countries, Saint Stephen's Day or the Feast of St. Stephen is December 26. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6. Eastern Orthodox Churches that still use the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas on the Julian version of 25 December, which is January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar, because the two calendars are now 13 days apart.

The word Christmas originated as a contraction of "Christ's mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038, compounded from Old English derivatives of the Greek christos and the Latin missa.[1] In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ. Since the mid-16th century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ.[2] Hence, Xmas is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

After the conversion of Anglo-Saxon Britain in the very early 7th century, Christmas was referred to as geol,[1] the name of the pre-Christian solstice festival from which the current English word 'Yule' is derived.[3]

The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in 800. Around the 12th century, the remnants of the former Saturnalian traditions of the Romans were transferred to the Twelve Days of Christmas (26 December – 6 January). Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival, incorporating ivy, holly, and other evergreens, as well as gift-giving.

Modern traditions have come to include the display of Nativity scenes, Holly and Christmas trees, the exchange of gifts and cards, and the arrival of Father Christmas or Santa Claus on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill and peace.

History

 

Pre-Christian origins

A winter festival was traditionally the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included less agricultural work needing to be done during the winter, as well as people expecting longer days and shorter nights after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.[4] In part, the Christmas celebration was created by the early Church in order to entice pagan Romans to convert to Christianity without losing their own winter celebrations.[5][4] Certain prominent gods and goddesses of other religions in the region had their birthdays celebrated on December 25, including Ishtar, Sol Invictus and Mithras. Various traditions are considered to have been syncretised from winter festivals including the following:

 

Saturnalia

In Roman times, the best-known winter festival was Saturnalia, which was popular throughout Italy. Saturnalia was a time of general relaxation, feasting, merry-making, and a cessation of formal rules. It included the making and giving of small presents (Saturnalia et Sigillaricia), including small dolls for children and candles for adults.[6] During Saturnalia, business was postponed and even slaves feasted. There was drinking, gambling, and singing, and even public nudity. It was the "best of days," according to the poet Catullus.[7] Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and began on December 17. The festival gradually lengthened until the late Republican period, when it was seven days (December 17–24). In imperial times, Saturnalia was shortened to five days.[8]

 

Natalis Solis Invicti

Alleged representation of Christ in the form of the sun-god Helios or Sol Invictus riding in his chariot. Third century mosaic of the Vatican grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica, on the ceiling of the tomb of the Julii.
Alleged representation of Christ in the form of the sun-god Helios or Sol Invictus riding in his chariot. Third century mosaic of the Vatican grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica, on the ceiling of the tomb of the Julii.

The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270–274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin.[9] Emperor Elagabalus (218–222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.[10]

December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma.[6] It was therefore the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.[1] Several early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus[11] "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born", Cyprian wrote.[1]

 

Yule

Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period. Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder, with the belief that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days.[4] In pagan Germania (not to be confused with Germany), the equivalent holiday was the mid-winter night which was followed by 12 "wild nights", filled with eating, drinking and partying.[12] As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas,[13] a usage first recorded in 900.

 

Christian origins

Origen, a father of the Christian church, argued against the celebration of birthdays, including the birth of Christ.
Origen, a father of the Christian church, argued against the celebration of birthdays, including the birth of Christ.

It is unknown exactly when or why December 25 became associated with Christ's birth. The New Testament does not give a specific date.[14] Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday "as if he were a king pharaoh". He contended that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays.[15]Sextus Julius Africanus popularized the idea that Christ was born on December 25 in his Chronographiai, a reference book for Christians written in AD 221.[11] This date is nine months after the traditional date of the Incarnation (March 25), now celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. March 25 was considered to be the date of the vernal equinox and therefore the creation of Adam; early Christians believed this was also the date Christ was crucified. The Christian idea that Christ was conceived on the same date that he died on the cross is consistent with a Jewish belief that a prophet lived an integral number of years.[16] Thus, the date as a birthdate for Christ is traditional, and is not considered to be his actual date of birth.

Although the identification of the birth date of Christ is debated, liturgical celebrations of the Nativity were celebrated from at least A.D. 200 in the Christian East. The earliest reference is found in St. Clement of Alexandria's writings in reference to a celebration of the Nativity and the Epiphany. [17] Another reference is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354.[1][18] In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival focused on the baptism of Jesus.[19]

Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, and to Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400.[1] The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days from Christmas Day to the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 that encompass the major feasts surrounding the birth of Christ. In the Latin Rite, one week after Christmas Day January 1 has traditionally been the celebration the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ, but since Vatican ityII, this feast has been celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Roman Emperor Constantine deliberately made Christian festivals such as Christmas to coincide with Roman pagan holidays, such as the birth of the sun god to try to spread Christianity, according to Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza University. [20]

 

Middle Ages

Adoration of the Magi by Don Lorenzo Monaco (1422).
Adoration of the Magi by Don Lorenzo Monaco (1422).

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in the west focused on the visit of the magi. But the Medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin" (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours), now known as Advent.[21] In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent.[21] Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days.[21] The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in 800. King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066. Christmas during the Middle Ages remained a public festival, incorporating ivy, holly, and other evergreens, as well as gift-giving.[22] Christmas gift-giving during the Middle Ages was practiced more often between people with legal relationships (i.e. tenant and landlord) than between close friends and relatives.[22] By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten.[21] The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form.[21] "Misrule" — drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling — was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day, and there was special Christmas ale.[21]

Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England.
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England.

 

From the Reformation to the 1800s

During the Reformation, some Protestants condemned Christmas celebration as "trappings of popery" and the "rags of the Beast". The Roman Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in an even more religiously oriented form. Following the Parliamentary victory over King Charles I during the English Civil War, England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas, in 1647. Pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities, and for several weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.[23] The Restoration of 1660 ended the ban, but many of the Nonconformist clergy still disapproved of Christmas celebrations, using Puritan arguments. In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas; its celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom.[24] By the 1820s, sectarian tension in England had eased and British writers began to worry that Christmas was dying out. They imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts were made to revive the holiday. Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, played a major role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion over communal celebration and hedonistic excess.[25] Interest in Christmas in America was revived in the 1820s by several short stories by Washington Irving appearing in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon and "Old Christmas", and by Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas). Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted holiday traditions he claimed to have observed in England. Although some argue that Irving invented the traditions he describes, they were widely imitated by his American readers.[26] The poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas popularized the tradition of exchanging gifts and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance.[27] In her 1850 book "The First Christmas in New England", Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a character who complained that the true meaning of Christmas was being lost in a shopping spree.[28] Christmas was declared a United States Federal holiday in 1870, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.

 

Christmas as a celebration of the nativity

German painting, 1457
German painting, 1457

The Nativity of Jesus refers to the Christian belief that the Messiah was born to the Virgin Mary. The story of Christmas is based on the biblical accounts given in the Gospel of Matthew, namely Matthew 1:18-Matthew 2:12 and the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 1:26-Luke 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a "stable", surrounded by farm animals, though neither the “stable” nor the animals are mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a "manger" is mentioned in Luke 2:7 where it states "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child.[29] Christians believe that the birth of Jesus fulfilled many prophecies made hundreds of years before his birth.

Remembering or re-creating the Nativity is a central way that Christians celebrate Christmas. There is a very long tradition of the Nativity of Jesus in art. The Eastern Orthodox Church practices the Nativity Fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of the Western Church celebrates Advent. In some Christian denominations, children perform plays re-telling the events of the Nativity, or sing carols that reference the event. Some Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity, known as a Nativity scene, in their homes, using figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Live Nativity scenes, and tableaux vivants are also performed, using actors and live animals to portray the event with more realism.[30]

Nativity scenes traditionally include the Three Wise Men, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, although their names and number are not referred to in the Biblical narrative, who are said to have followed a star, known as the Star of Bethlehem, found Jesus, and presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.[31]

In the U.S., Christmas decorations at public buildings once commonly included Nativity scenes. This practice has led to many lawsuits, as groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union believe it amounts to the government endorsing a religion, which is prohibited by the United States Constitution. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lynch vs. Donnelly that a Christmas display (which included a Nativity scene) owned and displayed by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island did not violate the First Amendment.[32]

In addition to decorations on buildings and in the home, some Christian men decorate their bodies by growing a Christmas Beard between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve in order to prepare themselves spiritually for the holy day.

 

Christmas as a secular holiday

Throughout the 20th century, the United States experienced what became known as the Christmas controversies over the nature of the day, and its dual status as a religious feast day and a secular holiday of the same name. The importance of the economic impact of the secular Christmas holiday was reinforced in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed moving the Thanksgiving holiday date to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy during the Great Depression.[33] Religious leaders protested this move, with a New York Times roundup of Christmas sermons showing the most common theme as the dangers of an increasingly commercial Christmas.[34]

"Now it is Christmas again" (1907) by Carl Larsson.
"Now it is Christmas again" (1907) by Carl Larsson.

Some considered the U.S. government's recognition of Christmas as a federal holiday to be a violation of the separation of church and state. This was brought to trial several times, recently including in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)[32] and Ganulin v. United States (1999).[35]

On December 6, 1999, the verdict for Ganulin v. United States (1999) declared that "the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose." This decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 19, 2000. At the same time, many devout Christians objected to what they saw as the vulgarization and cooption of one of their sacred observances by secular commercial society and calls to return to "the true meaning of Christmas" are common.

Debates about Christmas in America continued into the 21st century. In 2005, some Christians, along with American political commentators such as Bill O'Reilly, protested what they perceived to be the secularization of Christmas. They felt that the holiday was threatened by a general secular trend, or by persons and organizations with an anti-Christian agenda. The perceived trend was also blamed on political correctness.[36]

 

Santa Claus and other bringers of gifts

Santa Claus hands out gifts during the US Civil War in Thomas Nast's first Santa Claus cartoon, Harper's Weekly, 1863.
Santa Claus hands out gifts during the US Civil War in Thomas Nast's first Santa Claus cartoon, Harper's Weekly, 1863.

Originating from Western culture, where the holiday is characterized by the exchange of gifts among friends and family members, some of the gifts are attributed to a character called Santa Claus (also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or St. Nikolaus, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, Weihnachtsmann, Saint Basil and Father Frost).

The popular image of Santa Claus was created by the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902), who drew a new image annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the form we now recognize. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.[37]

Father Christmas, who predates the Santa Claus character, was first recorded in the 15th century, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness.[38] In Victorian Britain, his image was remade to match that of Santa. The French Père Noël evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In Italy, Babbo Natale acts as Santa Claus, while La Befana is the bringer of gifts and arrives on the eve of the Epiphany. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. Now, she brings gifts to all children. In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus.

The current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes. This story is meant to be a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and modern day globalization, most notably the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, by John Leech. Made for Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843).
Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, by John Leech. Made for Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843).

In Southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Alto Adige/Südtirol (Italy) and Liechtenstein the Christkind brings the presents. The German St. Nikolaus is not identical with the Weihnachtsman (who is the German version of Santa Claus). St. Nikolaus wears a bishop's dress and still brings small gifts (usually candies, nuts and fruits) on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive.

 

Christmas tree and other decorations

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs,[40] and an adaptation of pagan tree worship.[41] The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835[38] and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century[41] though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century.[42][43] From Germany the custom was introduced to England, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. Around the same time, German immigrants introduced the custom into the United States.[44] Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.

The Slovenian version of Santa, Ded Moroz or Father Frost.
The Slovenian version of Santa, Ded Moroz or Father Frost.

Since the 19th century, the poinsettia has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage.

In Australia, North and South America, and to a lesser extent Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.[45]

In the Western world, rolls of brightly-colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels.

 

Economics of Christmas

Christmas display in a Brazilian shopping mall
Christmas display in a Brazilian shopping mall

Christmas is typically the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations. Sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas and shops introduce new products as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies. In the U.S., the "Christmas shopping season" generally begins on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, though many American stores begin selling Christmas items in October and early November.[46]

In most areas, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for business and commerce; almost all retail, commercial and institutional businesses are closed, and almost all industries cease activity (more than any other day of the year). In England and Wales, the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004 prevents all large shops from trading on Christmas Day. Scotland is currently planning similar legislation. Film studios release many high-budget movies in the holiday season, including Christmas films, fantasy movies or high-tone dramas with high production values.

An economists analysis calculates that Christmas is a deadweight loss under orthodox microeconomic theory, due to the surge in gift-giving. This loss is calculated as the difference between what the gift giver spent on the item and what the gift receiver would have paid for the item. It is estimated that in 2001 Christmas resulted in a $4 billion deadweight loss in the U.S. alone.[47][48] Because of complicating factors, this analysis is sometimes used to discuss possible flaws in current microeconomic theory. Other deadweight losses include the effects of Christmas on the environment and the fact that material gifts are often perceived as white elephants, imposing cost for upkeep and storage and contributing to clutter.

Christmas

The festival of Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. It's a celebration of humanity and mankind. Though Christmas is a primary festival of the Christian calendar but still it has a special significance in everyone's life. It is celebrated as a universal festival through out the nation. The first mention of 25th December as the birth date of Jesus occurred in 336 A.D. in an early Roman calendar. That day onwards this date is celebrated as the birth date of Jesus. In India this festival has a special significance since India is known for its unity in diversity worldwide. The celebration of Christmas shows that even people from different religion takes part in Christmas celebration just as the Indian Christians do. And because of European influence on the country for so long the religion has spread across the country. The doctrines and philosophies of Christianity converted people of many sects to Christianity and today, there is a large Christian community thriving in India that has adopted the Christians festivals as a part of Indian culture as well. However, many of the rituals of these Christian festivals have been modified to suit the climatic conditions of the land.

Christmas is the most important festival of Indian Christians. Christians in India decorate banana or mango trees instead of traditional pine tree. They also light small oil-burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill their churches with red flowers. As a part of their celebration they give 
Christmas gifts to their family members and token of money to poor people as charity. People decorate their houses and churches with poinsettia flowers for the midnight mass. In South India, the Christians put small clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses at Christmas, just as the Hindus do during their festival called Diwali. In Goa, all hotels are jampacked during Christmas period and one must plan well in advance if planning a stay in one of the Goa hotels. The local Indian customs and tradition and customs have a heavy impact on the Indian Christian. And this is visible in their decoration as many Indian Christians decorate their houses with mango leaves. Churches often have an Evening Service on Christmas and are fabulously decorated with poinsettias and candles. Caroling processions on streets and thoroughfares can also be seen.

Christmas

 

Christmas or Christmas Day is a holiday observed generally on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived, the date of the winter solstice on the ancient Roman calendar, or one of various ancient winter festivals. Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.

Although nominally a Christian holiday, Christmas is also widely celebrated by many non-Christians, and many of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of greeting cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe, nativity scenes, and holly. In addition, several similar mythological figures, known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and Santa Claus among other names, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season.

Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Etymology

The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038."Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Date of celebration

For centuries, Christian writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born. In the early 18th century, scholars began proposing alternative explanations. Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma and celebrated on December 25. In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holidayDies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. According to Judeo-Christian tradition, creation as described in the Genesis creation narrativeoccurred on the date of the spring equinox, i.e. March 25 on the Roman calendar. This date is now celebrated as Annunciation and as the anniversary of Incarnation. In 1889, Louis Duchesnesuggested that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after Annunciation, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus.

The December 25 date may have been selected by the church in Rome in the early 4th century. At this time, a church calendar was created and other holidays were also placed on solar dates: "It is cosmic symbolism...which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas," according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans.

However, today, whether or not the birth date of Jesus is on December 25 is not considered to be an important issue in mainstream Christian denominations; rather, the belief that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas.

Decorations

The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter. Decorating with greenery was also part of Jewish tradition: "Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

The traditional colors of Christmas are green and red.  White, silver and gold are also popular. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter.

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century. From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.

Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places. It is common in many parts of the world for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.

In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

Music and carols

The first specifically Christmas hymns that we know of appear in 4th century Rome. Latin hymns such as Veni redemptor gentium, written by Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten) by the Spanish poet Prudentius  is still sung in some churches today.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Christmas "Sequence" or "Prose" was introduced in North European monasteries, developing under Bernard of Clairvaux into a sequence of rhymed stanzas. In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol.

By the 13th century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence ofFrancis of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, who lists twenty-five "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of wassailers, who went from house to house. The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal folk songs sung during celebrations such as "harvest tide" as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church. Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like "Personent hodie", "Good King Wenceslas", and "The Holly and the Ivy" can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages. They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Adeste Fidelis (O Come all ye faithful) appears in its current form in the mid-18th century, although the words may have originated in the 13th century.

Completely secular Christmas seasonal songs emerged in the late 18th century. "Deck The Halls" dates from 1784, and the American, "Jingle Bells" was copyrighted in 1857. In the 19th and 20th century, African American spirituals and songs about Christmas, based in their tradition of spirituals, became more widely known. An increasing number of seasonal holidays songs were commercially produced in the 20th century, including jazz and blues variations. In addition, there was a revival of interest in early music, from groups singing folk music, such as The Revels, to performers of early medieval and classical music.

Food

A special Christmas family meal is traditionally an important part of the holiday's celebration, and the food that is served varies greatly from country to country. Some regions, such as Sicily, have special meals for Christmas Eve, when 12 kinds of fish are served. In England and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey, meat, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider. Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding, mince pies and fruit cake.

 

 

Cards

Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks proceeding Christmas Day. The traditional greeting reads "wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", much like that of the first commercial Christmas card, produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The custom of sending them has become popular among a wide cross-section of people with the emergence of the modern trend towards exchanging E-cards!

Some prefer cards with a poem, prayer or Biblical verse; while others distance themselves from religion with an all-inclusive "Season's greetings".

Gift giving

The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making the Christmas season the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. Gift giving was common in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. 

Legendary gift-bringing figures

A number of figures of both Christian and mythical origin have been associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. The most famous and pervasive of these figures in modern celebration worldwide is Santa Claus, a mythical gift bringer, dressed in red, whose origins have diverse sources. The name Santa Claus can be traced back to the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means simply Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey, during the 4th century. Among other saintly attributes, he was noted for the care of Children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast on the 6th of December came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. Saint Nicholas traditionally appeared in bishop's attire, accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behaviour of children during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. By the 13th century, Saint Nicholas was well known in the Netherlands, and the practice of gift-giving in his name spread to other parts of central and southern Europe.

The modern popular image of Santa Claus, however, was created in the United States, and in particular in New York. The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors including Washington Irving and the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Following the American Revolutionary War, some of the inhabitants of New York City sought out symbols of the city's non-English past. New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. At his first American appearance in 1810, Santa Claus was drawn in bishops' robes. However as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. Nast drew a new image of "Santa Claus" annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.

Father Christmas, a jolly, well nourished, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character. 

 

 

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