What is Christmas?
Christmas was traditionally a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus, but in the early 20th century, it also became a secular family holiday, celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.
The secular holiday is often devoid of Christian elements, with the mythological figure Santa Claus playing a prominent role.
When is Christmas celebrated?
Christmas is celebrated by many Christians on 25 December in the Gregorian calendar. For the Eastern Orthodox Churches that continue to use the Julian calendar for liturgy, this date corresponds to 7 January on the Gregorian calendar.
Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve in most European countries and on Christmas morning in North America.
How is Christmas celebrated?
Christians and non-Christians participate in some of the most popular Christmas traditions, many of which have no origin in Christianity.
These customs include decorating evergreen trees—or, in India, mango or bamboo trees; feasting (picnics and fireworks are popular in warm weather); and exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
Does Christmas Have Pagan Roots?
In ancient Rome, December 25 was a celebration of the unconquered sun, marking the return of longer days. Then came the Saturnalia, a festival where people feasted and exchanged gifts.
The church in Rome began celebrating Christmas on December 25 during the reign of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, possibly to weaken pagan traditions.
Did Christmas Originate In Germany?
Christmas didn’t start in Germany, but many of the holiday’s traditions began there, including decorating trees. The celebration of Christmas began in Rome around 336 but did not become a major Christian festival until the 9th century.
Christmas is the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. The English word Christmas (“Mass on Christ’s Day”) is of fairly recent origin.
The earlier word Yule may be derived from the Germanic Jol or Anglo-Saxon Jol, which refers to the winter solstice festival. Related words in other languages—navidad in Spanish, Natale in Italian, noël in French—all probably refer to birth. The German word Weihnachten means “holy night”.
Since the early 20th century, Christmas has also been a secular family holiday, celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, devoid of Christian elements, and marked by an increasingly elaborate exchange of gifts.
In this secular Christmas celebration, a mythological figure named Santa Claus plays a major role. Christmas is celebrated on Sunday, December 25, 2022.
Origin and development
The early Christian community made a distinction between the recognition of the date of Jesus’ birth and the religious celebration of that event.
The actual observance of the day of Jesus’ birth was a long time in coming. In particular, during the first two centuries of Christianity, there was strong opposition to the recognition of the birthdays of martyrs or, for that matter, of Jesus.
Many Church Fathers made sarcastic comments about the pagan practice of celebrating birthdays, when in fact saints and martyrs should be honored on the day of their martyrdom—their true “birthdays” from the Church’s point of view.
The exact origin of designating December 25 as the date of birth of Jesus is unclear. The New Testament gives no clue in this regard.
December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 and later became the universally accepted date.
A widespread explanation of the date’s origin is that December 25 was Christianised to deus solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered Sun”), a popular holiday in the Roman Empire that symbolically celebrated the winter solstice.
Announcing the resurrection of the sun, the driving away of winter, and the rebirth of spring and summer. Indeed, after 25 December became widely accepted as the date of Jesus’ birth, Christian writers often made a connection between the rebirth of the Sun and the birth of the Son.
One of the difficulties with this view is that it suggests an unwillingness on the part of the Christian church to appropriate a pagan festival when the early church intended to separate itself from pagan beliefs and practices. use to have.
A second point of view suggests that December 25 became the date of Jesus’ birth by an a priori argument that identified the vernal equinox as the date of the creation of the world and the fourth day of creation, when the light was created, as the day of Jesus as ‘ Conception (i.e., March 25). December 25, nine months later, became the date of Jesus’ birth.
For a long time, the celebration of the birth of Jesus coincided with his baptism, which was celebrated on 6 January.
In the 9th century, Christmas became widely celebrated with a specific liturgy but did not achieve the same liturgical importance as Good Friday or Easter, the other two major Christian holidays.
Roman Catholic churches celebrate the first Christmas Mass at midnight, and Protestant churches hold Christmas candlelight services late in the evening of 24 December.
Garden of Eden for the coming of Christ. Inaugurated by EW Benson and adopted at the University of Cambridge, the service has become widely popular. (Christmas Holiday)
Contemporary Customs in the West
None of the contemporary Christmas customs have their origins in theological or literary confirmation, and most are of recent date.
The Renaissance humanist Sebastian Brandt recorded the custom of placing branches of fir trees in homes in Das Narenschiff (1494; The Ship of Fools). (Christmas Holiday)
Even though there is some uncertainty about the exact date and origin of the Christmas tree tradition, it appears that apple-decorated fir trees were first known in Strasbourg in 1605.
The first use of candles on such trees is recorded by a Silesian duchess. In 1611. Advent wreaths—made of fir branches with four candles—denoting the four Sundays of the Advent season—are of even more recent origin, particularly in North America.
The custom, which began in the 19th century but has its roots in the 16th, originally consisted of a fir wreath with 24 candles (24 days before Christmas, starting on 1 December), but having so many candles on the wreath has become increasingly common. The weirdness of K. reduced the number to four.
A similar practice is the Advent calendar, which provides 24 openings, each opened on a day beginning on 1 December.
According to tradition, the calendar was created in the 19th century by a Munich housewife who was tired of answering endlessly when Christmas came. (Christmas Holiday)
The first commercial calendar was printed in Germany in 1851. The intense preparation for Christmas that is part of the commercialization of the holiday has blurred the traditional religious distinction between Advent and the Christmas season, as can be seen from the placement of Christmas trees in sanctuaries before 25 December.
By the end of the 18th century, the practice of giving gifts to family members was well established. Religiously, the feast day reminded Christians of God’s gift of Jesus to mankind, even as the arrival of the wise men, or magi, in Bethlehem suggested that Christmas was somehow related to gift-giving. (Christmas Holiday)
The practice of gift-giving, which dates from the 15th century, contributed to the idea that Christmas was a secular holiday focused on family and friends.
This was one of the reasons why Puritans in Old and New England opposed the celebration of Christmas and were successful in banning its observance in both England and America.
The tradition of celebrating Christmas as a secular family holiday is brilliantly illustrated by many English “Christmas” carols such as “Here We Come A-Wesselling” or “Deck the Halls”.
This can also be seen in the custom of sending Christmas cards, which originated in England in the 19th century. Furthermore, in countries such as Austria and Germany, a connection is made between the Christian festival and the family holiday by identifying the Christ Child as the giver of the gift to the family. (Christmas Holiday)
In some European countries, Saint Nicholas appears on his feast day (December 6) bringing modest gifts of candy and other gifts to children.
The pre-Christmas role of the Christian Saint Nicholas in North America was transformed into an increasingly central role of Santa Claus under the influence of the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”).
As a source of Christmas gifts for the family. While Santa Claus’s name and outfit—a version of a bishop’s traditional dress—reveal his Christian roots, and his role of questioning children about their past behavior mimics that of St. Nicholas, he is seen as a secular figure.
In Australia, where people attend open-air concerts of Christmas carols and have their Christmas dinner on the beach, Santa Claus also wears red swimming trunks and a white beard.
In most European countries, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, December 24, in keeping with the belief that the baby Jesus was born on the night of the 24th.
However, the morning of December 25 has become a time for exchanging gifts in North America. In 17th- and 18th-century Europe, a modest exchange of gifts took place in the early hours of the 25th when families returned home from Christmas Mass. (Christmas Holiday)
When the evening of the 24th became the time for the exchange of gifts, the Christmas Mass was scheduled for the late afternoon of that day.
The opening of gifts for family as the centrality of the morning of December 25 in North America has led to the virtual end of holding church services on that day, except for Catholic and some Lutheran and Episcopal churches. This a striking illustration of the way social customs influence worship practices.
Given the importance of Christmas as a major Christian feast, most European countries celebrate December 26 as a second Christmas holiday under Christian influence.
This practice recalls the ancient Christian liturgical belief that the celebration of Christmas, as well as Easter and Pentecost, should last a week. The week-long observance, however, was progressively reduced on Christmas Day and December 26 as an additional holiday. (Christmas Holiday)
Contemporary Rites in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy
The Eastern Orthodox Church honors Christmas on 25 December. However, for those who continue to use the Julian calendar for their religious observances, the date corresponds to January 7 on the Gregorian calendar.
The churches of the Oriental Orthodox Communion celebrate Christmas in different ways. For example, in Armenia, the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the church uses its calendar;
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates January 6 as Christmas. In Ethiopia, where Christianity has been home since the 4th century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January. (Christmas Holiday)
Most churches in the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All East celebrate Christmas on 25 December; At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, however, the Syriac Orthodox celebrate Christmas on 6 January along with the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The congregations of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria follow the date of December 25 on the Julian calendar, which corresponds to Khiyaq 29 on the ancient Coptic calendar. (Christmas Holiday)
Contemporary customs in other regions
With the spread of Christianity beyond Europe and North America, the celebration of Christmas shifted to non-Western societies throughout the world.
In many of these countries, Christians are not the majority of the population, and therefore, the religious holiday has not become a cultural holiday.
Christmas customs in these societies often echo Western traditions as people were exposed to Christianity as a religion and cultural artifact of the West. (Christmas Holiday)
In South and Central America, unique religious and secular traditions mark the Christmas celebration. In Mexico, in the days before Christmas, Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay is resumed, and children try to break a piñata filled with toys and candy.
Christmas is a great summer festival in Brazil, which includes picnics, fireworks, and other festivities, as well as a solemn procession of priests to church to celebrate midnight mass.
In some parts of India, the evergreen Christmas tree is replaced by a mango tree or bamboo tree and houses are decorated with mango leaves and paper strings. Christmas remains largely a Christian holiday and is not otherwise widely celebrated.
Japan serves as a different type of illustration. In the predominantly Shinto and Buddhist country, the secular aspects of the holiday—Christmas trees and decorations, even the singing of Christmas songs such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “White Christmas”—are widely celebrated rather than the religious aspects.
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