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Christian chronographers of the 3rd century believed that the creation of the world took place at the spring equinox, then….
In particular, during the first two centuries of Christianity there was strong opposition to recognizing birthdays of martyrs or, for that matter, of Jesus.
The precise origin of assigning December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is unclear. The New Testament provides no clues in this regard.
One of the difficulties with this view is that it suggests a nonchalant willingness on the part of the Christian church to appropriate a pagan festival when the early church was so intent on distinguishing itself categorically from pagan beliefs and practices.
Christmas began to be widely celebrated with a specific liturgy in the 9th century but did not attain the liturgical importance of either Good Friday or Easter , the other two major Christian holidays.
Roman Catholic churches celebrate the first Christmas mass at midnight, and Protestant churches have increasingly held Christmas candlelight services late on the evening of December The service, inaugurated by E.
Benson and adopted at the University of Cambridge , has become widely popular. None of the contemporary Christmas customs have their origin in theological or liturgical affirmations, and most are of fairly recent date.
The Renaissance humanist Sebastian Brant recorded, in Das Narrenschiff ; The Ship of Fools , the custom of placing branches of fir trees in houses.
Even though there is some uncertainty about the precise date and origin of the tradition of the Christmas tree , it appears that fir trees decorated with apples were first known in Strasbourg in The first use of candles on such trees is recorded by a Silesian duchess in The Advent wreath—made of fir branches, with four candles denoting the four Sundays of the Advent season—is of even more recent origin, especially in North America.
The custom, which began in the 19th century but had roots in the 16th, originally involved a fir wreath with 24 candles the 24 days before Christmas, starting December 1 , but the awkwardness of having so many candles on the wreath reduced the number to four.
An analogous custom is the Advent calendar , which provides 24 openings, one to be opened each day beginning December 1. According to tradition, the calendar was created in the 19th century by a Munich housewife who tired of having to answer endlessly when Christmas would come.
The first commercial calendars were printed in Germany in The intense preparation for Christmas that is part of the commercialization of the holiday has blurred the traditional liturgical distinction between Advent and the Christmas season, as can be seen by the placement of Christmas trees in sanctuaries well before December Toward the end of the 18th century the practice of giving gifts to family members became well established.
The practice of giving gifts, which goes back to the 15th century, contributed to the view that Christmas was a secular holiday focused on family and friends.
This was one reason why Puritans in Old and New England opposed the celebration of Christmas and in both England and America succeeded in banning its observance.
Moreover, in countries such as Austria and Germany , the connection between the Christian festival and the family holiday is made by identifying the Christ Child as the giver of gifts to the family.
In some European countries, St. Nicholas appears on his feast day December 6 bringing modest gifts of candy and other gifts to children.
While both name and attire—a version of the traditional dress of bishop—of Santa Claus reveal his Christian roots, and his role of querying children about their past behaviour replicates 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 wears red swimming trunks as well as a white beard.
In most European countries, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, December 24, in keeping with the notion that the baby Jesus was born on the night of the 24th.
This holiday was created in the seventh century and was assigned to a date that is nine months before Christmas, in addition to being the traditional date of the equinox.
It is unrelated to the Quartodecimal, which had been forgotten by this time. Early Christians celebrated the life of Jesus on a date considered equivalent to 14 Nisan Passover on the local calendar.
Because Passover was held on the 14th of the month, this feast is referred to as the Quartodecimal. All the major events of Christ's life, especially the passion, were celebrated on this date.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions Passover, presumably celebrated according to the local calendar in Corinth. According to the Calculation hypothesis, celebration of the quartodecimal continued in some areas and the feast became associated with Incarnation.
The Calculation hypothesis is considered academically to be "a thoroughly viable hypothesis", though not certain. This passage is generally considered a late interpellation.
But the manuscript includes another passage, one that is more likely to be authentic, that gives the passion as March In , Sextus Julius Africanus c.
This conclusion was based on solar symbolism, with March 25 the date of the equinox. As this implies a birth in December, it is sometimes claimed to be the earliest identification of December 25 as the nativity.
However, Africanus was not such an influential writer that it is likely he determined the date of Christmas. The tractate De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae, falsely attributed to John Chrysostom , also argued that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year and calculated this as March Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord?
Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice. The rival "History of Religions" hypothesis suggests that the Church selected December 25 date to appropriate festivities held by the Romans in honor of the Sun god Sol Invictus.
An explicit expression of this theory appears in an annotation of uncertain date added to a manuscript of a work by 12th-century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi.
The scribe who added it wrote:. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.
In , German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church.
Hermann Usener  and others  proposed that the Christians chose this day because it was the Roman feast celebrating the birthday of Sol Invictus.
Hijmans, however, states that "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.
Talley holds that the Roman Emperor Aurelian placed a festival of Sol Invictus on December 25 in order to compete with the growing rate of the Christian Church, which had already been celebrating Christmas on that date first.
With regard to a December religious feast of the deified Sun Sol , as distinct from a solstice feast of the birth or rebirth of the astronomical sun, one scholar has commented that, "while the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas".
As Christmas was unknown to the early Christian writers, it must have been introduced sometime after Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts.
In , Origen of Alexandria , writing about Leviticus The earliest known Christmas celebration is recorded in a fourth-century manuscript compiled in Rome.
It was prepared privately for Furius Dionysius Filocalus , a Roman aristocrat, in The reference in question states, "VIII kal. In Eastern Christianity the birth of Jesus was celebrated in connection with the Epiphany on January 6,   which however emphasized celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
The feast was introduced at Constantinople in , in Antioch by John Chrysostom towards the end of the fourth century,  probably in , and in Alexandria only in the following century.
Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus' birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity.
These elements, including the Yule log from Yule and gift giving from Saturnalia ,  became syncretized into Christmas over the centuries.
The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival -like state in the Middle Ages ,  to a tamer family-oriented and children-centered theme introduced in a 19th-century transformation.
Prior to and through the early Christian centuries, winter festivals —especially those centered on the winter solstice —were the most popular of the year in many European pagan cultures.
Reasons included the fact that less agricultural work needed to be done during the winter, as well as an expectation of better weather as spring approached.
Many modern Christmas customs have been directly influenced by such festivals, including:. The Egyptian deity Horus , son to goddess Isis , was celebrated at the winter solstice.
Horus was often depicted being fed by his mother, which also influenced the symbolism of the Virgin Mary with baby Christ.
The pre-Christian Germanic peoples —including the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse—celebrated a winter festival called Yule , held in the late December to early January period, yielding modern English yule , today used as a synonym for Christmas.
In eastern Europe also, old pagan traditions were incorporated into Christmas celebrations, an example being the Koleda ,  which was incorporated into the Christmas carol.
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. 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 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. 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.
Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy , holly , and other evergreens. In , King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games.
Following the Protestant Reformation , many of the new denominations, including the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church , continued to celebrate Christmas.
However, in 17th century England, some groups such as the Puritans , strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery " or the "rags of the Beast ".
The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglican party and the Puritan party. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity.
Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans.
As such, in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland discouraged the observance of Christmas, and though James VI commanded its celebration in , attendance at church was scant.
At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. With the atheistic Cult of Reason in power during the era of Revolutionary France , Christian Christmas religious services were banned and the three kings cake was renamed the "equality cake" under anticlerical government policies.
In the earlyth century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In , Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment.
Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, linking "worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation.
The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser , with "Bah! In , the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights , ornaments , and presents placed round it.
An image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle created a sensation when it was published in the Illustrated London News in A modified version of this image was published in the United States in Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall , Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned,  and he used the tract Vindication of Christmas of Old English Christmas traditions, that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories.
Nicholas popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas. In her book The First Christmas in New England , Harriet Beecher Stowe includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree.
While the celebration of Christmas was not yet customary in some regions in the U. The First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois , "although of genuine Puritan stock", was 'preparing for a grand Christmas jubilee', a news correspondent reported in He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card".
Up to the s in the UK, many Christmas customs were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families. The mass of the population had not adopted many of the Christmas rituals that later became general.
The Christmas tree was rare. Christmas dinner might be beef—certainly not turkey. In their stockings children might get an apple, orange, and sweets.
Full celebration of a family Christmas with all the trimmings only became widespread with increased prosperity from the s.
Post was still delivered on Christmas Day until League football matches continued in Scotland until the s while in England they ceased at the end of the s.
Under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, after its foundation in , Christmas celebrations—along with other Christian holidays—were prohibited in public.
European History Professor Joseph Perry wrote that likewise, in Nazi Germany , "because Nazi ideologues saw organized religion as an enemy of the totalitarian state, propagandists sought to deemphasize—or eliminate altogether—the Christian aspects of the holiday" and that "Propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime's racial ideologies.
As Christmas celebrations began to be held around the world even outside traditional Christian cultures in the 20th century, some Muslim-majority countries subsequently banned the practice of Christmas, claiming it undermines Islam.
Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian.
In some non-Christian areas, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration e. Hong Kong ; in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday.
Countries such as Japan, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations, and Christmas trees.
Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions. Among countries with a strong Christian tradition, a variety of Christmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures.
For Christians, participating in a religious service plays an important part in the recognition of the season. Christmas, along with Easter, is the period of highest annual church attendance.
In Catholic countries, people hold religious processions or parades in the days preceding Christmas. In other countries, secular processions or parades featuring Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held.
Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season. Gift-giving takes place on Christmas Day in most countries. The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history.
In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm , ivy, bays , and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green".
Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome. They were popularised by Saint Francis of Assisi from , quickly spreading across Europe.
Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom. The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red , green , and gold.
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, and gold is the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi , symbolizing royalty.
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.
By the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. Since the 16th century, the poinsettia , a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas.
Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage.
The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs , snowmen , and other Christmas figures.
Mistletoe features prominently in European myth and folklore for example the legend of Baldr , it is an evergreen parasitic plant which grows on trees, especially apple and poplar, and turns golden when it is dried.
It is customary to hang a sprig of mistletoe in the house at Christmas, and anyone standing underneath it may be kissed.
Mistletoe has sticky white berries, one of which was traditionally removed whenever someone was kissed under it. This is probably a fertility ritual.
The mistletoe berry juice resembles semen. Other traditional decorations include bells , candles , candy canes , stockings , wreaths , and angels.
Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen , make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season.
Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world.
Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places.
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.
The earliest extant specifically Christmas hymns appear in fourth-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.
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 of Francis of Assisi , a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed.
The songs now known 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.
They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Singing of carols initially suffered a decline in popularity after the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe, although some Reformers, like Martin Luther , wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship.
Carols largely survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in popular songs in the 19th century.
The 18th-century English reformer Charles Wesley understood the importance of music to worship. In addition to setting many psalms to melodies, which were influential in the Great Awakening in the United States, he wrote texts for at least three Christmas carols.
The best known was originally entitled "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings", later renamed " Hark! Felix Mendelssohn wrote a melody adapted to fit Wesley's words.
William Sandys ' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern contained the first appearance in print of many now-classic English carols, and contributed to the mid-Victorian revival of the festival.
Completely secular Christmas seasonal songs emerged in the late 18th century. 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.
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 the United Kingdom and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey, goose or other large bird, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider.
Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding , mince pies , fruit cake and Yule log cake. In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish often is used for the traditional main course, but richer meat such as lamb is increasingly served.
In Germany, France, and Austria, goose and pork are favored. Beef, ham, and chicken in various recipes are popular throughout the world. The Maltese traditionally serve Imbuljuta tal-Qastan ,  a chocolate and chestnuts beverage, after Midnight Mass and throughout the Christmas season.
The eating of sweets and chocolates has become popular worldwide, and sweeter Christmas delicacies include the German stollen , marzipan cake or candy, and Jamaican rum fruit cake.
As one of the few fruits traditionally available to northern countries in winter, oranges have been long associated with special Christmas foods.
Eggnog is a sweetened dairy -based beverage traditionally made with milk, cream, sugar, and whipped eggs which gives it a frothy texture.
Spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon are often added. The finished serving is often garnished with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon or nutmeg.
Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding 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 Christmas cards are purchased in considerable quantities, and feature artwork, commercially designed and relevant to the season.
The content of the design might relate directly to the Christmas narrative , with depictions of the Nativity of Jesus , or Christian symbols such as the Star of Bethlehem , or a white dove , which can represent both the Holy Spirit and Peace on Earth.
Other Christmas cards are more secular and can depict Christmas traditions , mythical figures such as Santa Claus , objects directly associated with Christmas such as candles, holly and baubles, or a variety of images associated with the season, such as Christmastide activities, snow scenes and the wildlife of the northern winter.
There are even humorous cards and genres depicting nostalgic scenes of the past such as crinolined shoppers in idealized 19th-century streetscapes.
Some prefer cards with a poem, prayer, or Biblical verse ; while others distance themselves from religion with an all-inclusive "Season's greetings".
A number of nations have issued commemorative stamps at Christmastide. Postal customers will often use these stamps to mail Christmas cards , and they are popular with philatelists.
These stamps are regular postage stamps , unlike Christmas seals , and are valid for postage year-round.
They usually go on sale some time between early October and early December, and are printed in considerable quantities.
The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making it the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world.
On Christmas, people exchange gifts based on the Christian tradition associated with Saint Nicholas ,  and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi.
A number of figures are associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. The Scandinavian tomte also called nisse is sometimes depicted as a gnome instead of Santa Claus.
The best known of these figures today is red-dressed Santa Claus, of diverse origins. Nicholas was a 4th-century Greek bishop of Myra , a city in the Roman province of Lycia , whose ruins are 3 kilometres 1.
His feast day, December 6, 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.
At the Reformation in 16th—17th-century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl , corrupted in English to Kris Kringle, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.
The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors including Washington Irving and the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast — New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas.
However, as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. By the s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the modern vision of the figure, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas.
The image was standardized by advertisers in the s  and continues through the present day. Father Christmas, a jolly, stout, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character.
He is first recorded in early 17th century England, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness rather than the bringing of gifts.
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 other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. There has been some opposition to the narrative of the American evolution of Saint Nicholas into the modern Santa.
It has been claimed that the Saint Nicholas Society was not founded until , almost half a century after the end of the American War of Independence.
Hageman, of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, maintains that the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in New York was alive and well from the early settlement of the Hudson Valley on.
Current tradition in several Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia 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, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.
Greek children get their presents from Saint Basil on New Year's Eve, the eve of that saint's liturgical feast.
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.
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