Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Christmas (literally, the Mass of Christ) is a traditional holiday in the Christian calendar which takes place around the end of December and celebrates the nativity of Jesus Christ. Christmas is also celebrated as a secular holiday throughout much of the world, including countries with little Christian population, such as Japan. The precise date of the birth and historicity of Jesus are hotly debated (see Jesus).

The word Christmas is often abbreviated to Xmas.

Table of contents
1 Date of celebration
2 Customs and celebrations
3 Christmas in culture
4 Timing of Christmas gifts
5 History behind Christmas
6 History of the date of Christmas
7 External links

Date of celebration

Christmas is celebrated on December 25 in all Christian churches (Eastern Rite Roman & Protestant), but since most Eastern Orthodox churches have not accepted either the Gregorian calendar or the Revised Julian Calendar reforms, the Ecclesiastic December 25 will fall on the civil date of January 7 for the years between 1900 to 2099. The date comes from the tradition that Jesus was born during The Jewish Festival of Lights (i.e. Hanukkah the 25th of Kislev - the beginning of Tevet) Kislev being accepted generally to correspond with December. The modern popular choice of 5BC for the year of Jesus's birth would place the 25th of Kislev on the 25th of November with the Old Julian calendar.

Traditionally in the United Kingdom the Christmas season ran for twelve days following Christmas Day, the twelve days of Christmas, a period of feasting and merrymaking that ended on Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany. This period corresponds with the liturgical season of Christmas.

Customs and celebrations

An enormous number of customs surround Christmas, and vary from country to country. Many aspects, such as the Christmas Tree, the Yule Log, and the giving of presents, were taken from the earlier pagan holiday of Yule and the traditional celebrations of the Winter solstice. Thus a few Christian churches, most notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, view Christmas as a pagan holiday and do not celebrate it. Some of the more popular aspects of British, North American, and Japanese Christmasses include Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) who brings gifts to children on his sleigh pulled by reindeer; the giving of gifts to friends and family; decorating a Christmas Tree with lights and ornaments; and the decoration of the home with evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe. In North America and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with large numbers of lights.

In many countries, children leave empty containers on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with small gifts such as toys, candy, or fruit. In the United States, the tradition is to hang a Christmas stocking by the fireplace, because Santa, according to the story, comes down the chimney and the stockings will be waiting for him. In other countries, children place their empty shoes for Santa's visit.

In most Western countries, Christmas celebrations take have both religious and secular aspects. The religious celebrations start with the celebration of Advent around the start of December, and are marked by special church services. Advent services lead up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and often include Advent carols. Advent is also represented by Advent calendars, sometimes containing sweets and chocolate for children, leading up to, and sometimes beyond, Christmas Eve. In the period immediately before Christmas, there are many Christmas services at which Christmas hymns and Christmas carols are sung, and there are special services, typified by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Cambridge. At Christmas special services often include a Midnight Mass, or a Mass of the Nativity. The church's season of Christmas ends on the feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, the traditional date of the visit of the Three Kings to the child Jesus.

Christmas is also celebrated by the non-religious as a secular holiday and, often, an opportunity to catch up with one's extended family. In many it is a time for giving gifts, exchanging Christmas cards, and having Christmas parties and discos in schools or workplaces, which often take place over several weeks before Christmas Day. On Christmas Day a special meal of Christmas dishes is usually served, for which there are varying traditional menus in every country. In the United Kingdom, the traditional meal consists of roast turkey or goose, served with roast potatoes and other vegetables, followed by Christmas pudding, a heavy boiled pudding made with dried fruit (traditionally plums) and flour. Christmas is a time when shops will increase their sales, and introduce new products which are sold at premium prices, taking advantage of the many marketing opportunities. Radio and TV stations popularise Christmas by broadcasting Christmas carols and Christmas songs.

Many TV shows celebrate the holiday with a 'Christmas special' episode. In the United Kingdom this is usually of extended length compared to a regular episode, allowing some popular shows to gain high ratings for their channel and essentially become an institution over Christmas (e.g. Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, Top of the Pops, etc.). HM Queen Elizabeth II also annually broadcasts a 10 minute speech on Christmas Day at 3pm, charting her views of the past year and giving her own reflections and advice. Also, the popular animated tale The Snowman is screened every Christmas on Channel 4, and a new story, The Bear, by the same artist and company is usually seen at around the same time.

The music industry is marked with the battle of bands and artists to make it to the 'Christmas No. 1' spot, which is always recognised as the first Sunday before, or on, Christmas Day. Many of these songs are extremely festive (Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody - 1973), while others are simply novelty songs that remain at the top of the chart for one week only (Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby - 1993). Gospel singer Cliff Richard has been recognised as a fixture of Christmas charts, appearing nearly every year in the run-up to Christmas and consequently being mocked for doing so.

However, many Christian religions and denominations (like the Jehovah's Witnesses and various Puritan groups), don't participate the celebration of holidays without explicit Biblical authorization, and so neither celebrate Christmas nor exchange Christmas cards, because they think these customs are against Biblical teachings. (Matthew 14:6-12; Romans 13:13)

The Christmas period in some countries, such as the United Kingdom extends beyond Christmas Day up to New Year, which also has its own parties, though in Scotland Hogmanay which occurs at the New Year is celebrated more than Christmas. The secular aspects of Christmas continue afterwards with the sales of goods in shops at the Christmas sales and New Year sales, when shops sell off goods which were not sold before Christmas, or use the opportunity to clear out goods, or simply take advantage of the many shoppers who go to these events in order to increase their sales. Another popular aspect of the Christmas season is the pantomime.

Christmas is also popular in Japan, encouraged by the commercial sector who see the opportunities in encouraging gift-giving as well as popular feelings that favor a celebration. The gift-giving is mainly done between family members as well as lovers, and Christmas does not carry religious connotations. Christmas is not as important as New Year's Day in Japan and is not a holiday. The Japanese use the American and British Santa Claus in their holiday.

The holiday's popularity is so pronounced that other faiths have emphasized their own winter holidays to serve as their own religion's equivalent. The most obvious example is Judaism's Chanukah which has evolved in the 20th century into a similar family gift giving holiday.

In the Republic of China on Taiwan, Christmas is not officially celebrated, but December 25 coincidentially falls on the date of the signing of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 1947 and hence there is an official holiday on that date, which is largely treated as if it was Christmas.

See also List of winter festivals

John Denver and the Muppets:
A Christmas Together

Christmas is traditionally associated with the Northern Hemisphere winter, and thus winter motifs are prominent in Christmas decorations and in the Santa Claus myth. Residents of countries located in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere thus experience somewhat of a dissonance between popular culture depictions of Christmas and their own balmy Christmas celebrations.

Christmas is, typically, the largest annual economic stimulus for the economies of celebrating Christian nations.

Countries that celebrate Christmas on December 25th precede it by Christmas Eve, and some of them follow it by Boxing Day. In the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia Christmas Day and Boxing Day are called (the equivalent of) First and Second Christmas Day.

For some shops and other businesses Christmas Day is the only day in the year that they are closed.

The traditional Christmas flower is the poinsettia.

Christmas in culture

A large number of fictional Christmas stories have been written, usually involving heart-touching tales that involve a Christmas miracle. Several of these stories have passed into popular culture and been accepted as part of the tradition of Christmas.

One of the most popular is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the curmudgeonly miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who rejects compassion and philanthropy, and Christmas as a symbol of both, is visited by the "Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future" who show him the consequences of his ways. Dickens is sometimes credited with shaping the modern celebration of Christmas (tree, plum pudding, carols) through his novel and other Christmas-related stories.

Another Christmas story is the acclaimed film, It's a Wonderful Life which is essentially the reverse of A Christmas Carol where the hero, George Bailey, is a businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community. On Christmas Eve, a guardian angel prevents from committing suicide in despair and magically shows him how much he meant to the world around him.

The Striezelmarkt, Germany's oldest Christmas market boasting the specialities of the Dresden region which is arguable a worldwide christmas gift production center takes place nearly one month. This is the time when Dresden Stollen fruitcake, Puslnitzer gingerbread, wood carvings from the Erzgebirge Mountains, Dresden Pflaumentoffel, Lusatian indigo print, Silesian ceramics, Bohemian glass and Meissen porcelain are dominating the whole life of some people from all over who collect as total christmas fanatics.

See also :

Timing of Christmas gifts

For most of the world, Christmas gifts are given on Christmas Eve (24 December) or Christmas Day.

For those countries who concentrate on Saint Nicholas as the bearer of gifts, presents are given on 5 December or 6 December. In Spain, and countries with a similar tradition, gifts are brought by the three Kings, Magi or Wise Men at Epiphany on 6 January. In the UK, there seems to have been a tradition of giving gifts to non-family members on Boxing Day, 26 December but this does not occur now. Some families no doubt give presents more than once during the winter season.

The song The Twelve Days of Christmas suggests a tradition of gifts each day from Christmas to Epiphany.

History behind Christmas

It may come as a surprise to learn that December 25th is said to be the birthday of many gods such as Nimrod, Osiris, Jupiter, Mithras, and all the other reincarnations of the child-god of the Babylonian religious system, including the baby "Jesus" who is held in the arms of the Roman Catholic Madonna. Genesis 10:8-10 gives us some insight on who exactly Nimrod is. It says, "And Kush brought forth Nimrod, he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before The Lord, therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before The Lord." And the beginning of his reign was Babel, and Erek and Akkad and Kalned, in the land of Shin'ar."

The Bible does not say who Nimrod's mother, or when his date of birth is, but Egyptian and Babylonian antiquities recognize his mother as Semiramis, and his birthday is celebrated on 25th December. Sometimes Semiramis is referred to as the mother of Nimrod, and sometimes as his wife, leading to the belief that Nimrod married his mother.

Nimrod was looked upon as a great leader, protector and even savior of his time. His being a hunter and protector of the small villages from wild animals gave more reason for him to be viewed as their savior. Nothing in the Bible mentions the death of Nimrod, but the ancient traditions suggest that he died a violent death. One tradition says that he was killed by a wild animal. Another says that Shem killed him because he had led the people into the worship of Baal.

His wife/mother, Semiramis, who rose to greatness because of her son, came into a problem when her son died. So instead she pronounced him to be a god, so that she herself would become a goddess. One tradition says that when Nimrod died she collected all of Nimrod's pieces (or Shem cut him into several pieces), but she was never able to find his sexual organ, so she came up with the symbol of the obelisk (which is a tall, four-sided stone pillar which tapers toward a pyramidal top) to represent that worship. She claimed that an evergreen tree sprouted from a tree stump, which she said indicated the entry of new life into the deceased Nimrod. Every year on the anniversary of Nimrod's birth (December 25th) they would leave gifts at this evergreen tree, which explains the origin of the Christmas tree. So essentially you can say that christmas trees are a representation of Nimrod's sexual organ. This is pretty standard throughout all Babylonian sun worship, other objects that have the same symbolization are steeples, obelisks and pyramids.

Jeremiah 10:1-5 speaks of this custom, "Hear the word which The Lord speaks to you, O house of Yisrael. Thus said The Lord, "Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be awed by the signs of the heavens, for the nations are awed by them. For the prescribed customs of these peoples are worthless, for one cuts a tree from the forest, work for the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They adorn it with silver and gold, they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it does not topple. They are like a rounded post, and they do not speak. They have to be carried because they do not walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they do no evil, nor is it in them to do any good." The Bible describes the Christmas tree as an idol. I don't think it's by chance that at Christmas we place our gifts at the foot of the tree just like many other idols are offered gifts at their feet.

Now even though Semiramis claimed to be a virgin she had another son, named Tammuz who she said was the reincarnation of Nimrod. She became known as the "Virgin Mother", "Holy Mother" and the "Queen of Heaven" and was symbolized by the moon. So began the worship of Semiramis and the child-god, and the whole paraphernalia of the Babylonian religious system. After the decline of Babylon, the religion was transported to Egypt where they worshipped Isis and her son Osiris (otherwise known as Horus). The same mother and child deities appeared in Pagan Rome as Fortuna and Jupiter, and in Greece as Ceres, the Great Mother, with the babe at her breast, or as Irene, the goddess of Peace, with the boy Plutus in her arms. Mithras, known as a god of light, was regarded as a sun-god or rather the "unconquerable Sun god" whose birth was also celebrated on the winter solstice, December 25th.

We read about Tammuz in Ezekiel 8:15-16, how the women were weeping for Tammuz and the Israelites worshiping the sun. It says, "And He brought me to the door of the north gate of the House of The Lord, and I saw women sitting there, weeping for Tammuz. Then He said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? You are to see still greater abominations than these.' And He brought me into the inner court of the House of The Lord, between the porch and the alter, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the Hekal of The Lord and their faces toward the east, and they were bowing themselves eastward toward the sun."

When Constantine came into the picture who was a self proclaimed Sun worshiper even unto death, he creating the Catholic Church, Catholic meaning Universal reveals his true intention as he allowed numerous pagan rituals and ideologies intermixed with the belief of the Creator. This was a great way to make room for the pagans without forcing them to drop their pagan practices and accept Christianity. The Pagans had no difficulty worshipping the Catholic Madonna and child because they were just seen as another manifestation of the Queen of Heaven and her son. The Pagans made no compromises, they didn't need to, they just continued their Pagan worship within the church.

This is history-- you can look in any encyclopedia; any library and find the historical background of Christmas, you will find that the Catholic Church at the time, adopted these practices from pagan worship and have remained because of tradition.

History of the date of Christmas

Many scholars have argued over the exact birthday and year of Christs birth. It is not a conclusive matter. It is probably impossible to say that He was born on one date or another. What we do know is that the year was between 5-7BC due to the astrological pnomen at that time, and the date of the Census. Where these coincide there we have the most likely date. Some say it was not possible to have been born in deep winter, because Luke tells us that shepherds spent the night Jesus was born outdoors with their flocks.(Luke 2:8) But the others say that this is speculation. The fairest thing is to say that He was born probably between October and March 5-7BC. Originally, Christmas' date was set to correspond with Roman festival of the birth of the Sun God Mithras. As early as A.D. 354, the Birth of Christ was celebrated on Dec. 25th in Rome. Other cities had other traditional dates. The history of Christmas is closely associated with that of the Epiphany. The earliest body of gospel tradition, represented by Mark no less than by the primitive non-Marcan document embodied in the first and third gospels, begins, not with the birth and childhood of Jesus, but with His baptism; and this order of accretion of gospel matter is faithfully reflected in the time order of the invention-of feasts. The great church adopted Christmas much later than Epiphany, and before the 5th century there was no general consensus of opinion as to when it should come in the calendar, whether on the 6th of January, or the 25th of March, or the 25th of December.

The earliest identification of the 25th of December with the birthday of Christ is in a passage, otherwise unknown and probably spurious, of Theophilus of Antioch (171-183), preserved in Latin by the Magdeburg centuriators, to the effect that the Gauls contended that as they celebrated the birth of the Lord on the 25th of December, whatever day of the week it might be, so they ought to celebrate the Pascha on the 25th of March when the resurrection befell.

The next mention of December 25 is in Hippolytus' (c. 202) commentary on Daniel. Jesus, he says, was born at Bethlehem on December 25, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of Augustus. This passage also is almost certainly interpolated. In any case he mentions no feast, nor was such a feast congruous with the orthodox ideas of that age. As late as 245 Origen, in his eighth homily on Leviticus, repudiates as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ "as if he were a king Pharaoh." The first certain mention of December 25 is in a Latin chronographer of A.D. 354, first published entire by Mommsen. It runs thus in English: "Year I after Christ, in the consulate of Caesar and Paulus, the Lord Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December, a Friday and 15th day of the new moon." Here again no feastal celebration of the day is attested.

There were, however, many speculations in the 2nd century about the date of Christ's birth. Clement of Alexandria, towards its close, mentions several such, and condemns them as superstitions. Some chronologists, he says, alleged the birth to have occurred in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the 25th of Pachon, the Egyptian month, i.e. the May 20. These were probably the Basilidian gnostics. Others set it on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi, i.e. the 19th or 20th of April. Clement himself sets it on the November 17, 3 B.C. The author of a Latin tract, called the De Pascha computus, written in Africa in 243, sets it by private revelation, ab ipso deo inspirali, on the March 28. He argues that the world was created perfect, flowers in bloom, and trees in leaf, therefore in spring; also at the equinox, and when the moon just created was full. Now the moon and sun were created on a Wednesday. The 28th of March suits all these considerations. Christ, therefore, being the Sun of Righteousness, was born on the 28th of March.

The same symbolical reasoning led Polycarp (before 160) to set his birth on Sunday, when the world's creation began, but his baptism on Wednesday, for it was the analogue of the sun's creation. On such grounds certain Latins as early as 354 may have transferred the human birthday from January 6 to December 25, which was then a Mithraic feast and is by the chronographer above referred to, but in another part of his compilation, termed Nat ails invicti solis, or birthday of the unconquered Sun. Cyprian calls Christ Sot verus, Ambrose Sol novus foster, and such rhetoric was widespread. The Syrians and Armenians, who clung to January 6, accused the Romanss of sun-worship and idolatry, contending with great probability that the feast of the 25th of December had been invented by disciples of Cerinthus and its lections by Artemon to commemorate the natural birth of Jesus. John Chrysostom also testifies December 25 to have been from the beginning known in the West, from Thrace even as far as Gades. Ambrose, On Virgins, writing to his sister, implies that as late as the papacy of Liberius 352 - 356, the Birth from the Virgin was feasted together with the Marriage of Cana and the Banquet of the 4000, which were never feasted on any other day but January 6.

Chrysostom, in a sermon preached at Antioch on December 20, 386 or 388, says that some held the feast of December 25 to have been held in the West, from Thrace as far as Cádiz, from the beginning. It certainly originated in the West, but spread quickly eastwards. In 353 - 361 it was observed at the court of Constantius II. Basil of Caesarea (died 379) adopted it. Honorius, emperor (395 - 423) in the West, informed his mother and brother Arcadius (395 - 408) in Byzantium of how the new feast was kept in Rome, separate from January 6, with its own troparia and sticharia. They adopted it, and recommended it to Chrysostom, who had long been in favour of it. Epiphanius of Crete was won over to it, as were also the other three patriarchs, Theophilus of Alexandria, John of Jerusalem, Flavian I of Antioch. This was under Pope Anastasius I, 398 - 400.

John or Wahan of Nice, in a letter printed by Combefis in his Historia monoizeii tarurn, affords the above details. The new feast was communicated by Proclus, patriarch of Constantinople (434 - 446), to Sahak, Catholicos of Armenia, about 440. The letter was betrayed to the Persian king, who accused Sahak of Greek intrigues, and deposed him. However, the Armenians, at least those within the Byzantine pale, adopted it for about thirty years, but finally abandoned it together with the decrees of Chalcedon early in the 8th century. Many writers of the period 375 - 450, e.g. Epiphanius, Cassian, Asterius, Basil, Chrysostom and Jerome, contrast the new feast with that of the Baptism as that of the birth after the flesh, from which we infer that the latter was generally regarded as a birth accoding to the Spirit. Instructive as showing that the new feast travelled from West eastwards is the fact (noticed by Usener) that in 387 the new feast was reckoned according to the Julian calendar by writers of the province of Asia, who in referring to other feasts use the reckoning of their local calendars. As early as 400 in Rome an imperial rescript includes Christmas among the three feasts (the others are Easter and Epiphany) on which theatres must be closed.

See also: Christmas season,Christmas carol, Christmas song, christmas dishes.

External links