Christmas (from the Old English, meaning 'Christ's Mass') is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday on December 25 by billions of people around the world.
According to popular tradition, the birth of Jesus took place in a stable surrounded by farm animals. A manger (a feeding trough) is mentioned in Luke 2:7. The precise date of Jesus' birth is unknown.
The original date of the celebration in Eastern Christianity was January 6th, in connection with Epiphany. The Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25th sometime in the 4th century, possibly to coincide with the solstice.
The holiday has been known by various names throughout its history, such as Midwinter, Nativity, Xmas, Yule, and Noel. The popular customs associated in various countries have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes.
Countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include China (except Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey, and North Korea.
Christmas Controversy Throughout the Years
Following the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans strong condemned the celebration, considering it a Catholic inventions and the 'trappings of popery.'
England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647. The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban.
The Presbyterian Church of Scotland also discouraged the observance of Christmas. James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, but attendance at church was scant.
The Parliament of Scotland officially abolished Christmas in 1640. It was not until 1958 that Christmas again became a Scottish public holiday.
In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared disapproval of Christmas. The celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban was revoked by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, but it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston Region.
Christmas fell out of favor in the US after the American Revolution, since it was considered an English custom.
President Theodore Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.
In 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States Federal holiday, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.
The American Civil Liberties Union has initiated court cases to bar the display of images and other Christmas material from public property, including schools.
In November 2009, the Federal appeals court in Philadelphia endorsed a school district's ban on the singing of Christmas carols.
Christmas Trees and Decorations
The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice. The first artificial trees were made using dyed goose feathers.
The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children.
The words, 'Christmas tree' was first recorded in 1835. By the 1870s, people in the US had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.
The traditional colors of Christmas are red, green and gold.
The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples.
The poinsettia is a native plant from Mexico and has been associated with Christmas since the 19th century. Other popular plants are holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus.
Poinsettias are NOT poisonous, but holly berries are.
The tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221 foot Douglas fir, displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, WA.
Christmas Cards and Carols
'Jingle Bells' was copyrighted in 1857.
The first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843.
The earliest Christmas hymn appear in 4th century Rome.
Each year, more than 3 billion Christmas cards are sent in the US alone!
The songs we know as carols were originally communal folk songs. Later, they were sung in church.
Sicilians serve 12 kinds of fish on Christmas Eve.
In England and other countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes a turkey or goose. Special desserts are also served, such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, and fruit cake.
In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish is traditionally used for the main course.
In Germany, France, and Austria, goose and pork are favored.
The Maltese serve a chocolate and chestnuts beverage after Midnight Mass.
The exchange of gifts is one of the core aspects of modern Christmas, making the season the most profitable for retailers throughout the world.
Gift giving was common in the the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and may have influenced Christmas customs.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi.
A number of figures are associated with Christmas and the giving of gifts: Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Pere Noel, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, Babbo Natale, Saint Basil, and Father Frost.
The modern popular image of Santa Claus was created in the US and made his first appearance in 1810, drawn in bishops' robes.
The German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) drew an image of Santa Claus annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the figure we now recognize. The image was standardized in the 1920s.
Current tradition in some Latin American countries hold that while Santa makes the toys, he gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one that delivers them to the homes.
Each year, there are approximately 20,000 'rent-a-Santas' across the US who undergo seasonal training on maintaining a jolly attitude under pressure from the public.
My family celebrates Christmas at our home. In the morning, we open our gifts and eat a special breakfast of stuffed french toast, before changing into our personalized Christmas pajamas. Yup! That's the family's Christmas outfit! (The family is growing—a new set with additional pairs is required for next year!) We pop open English Christmas crackers before sitting down to a big Italian dinner (We used to have a traditional Polish second dinner also!) One of my favorite traditions is reading 'The Night Before Christmas' with my daughter on Christmas Eve.
Next post: Hanukkah
Next post: Hanukkah
Do you celebrate Christmas? What are some of your favorite traditions?