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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.

The morning of December 25, however, has become the time for the exchange of gifts in North America. In 17th- and 18th-century Europe the modest exchange of gifts took place in the early hours of the 25th when the family returned home from the Christmas mass.

When the evening of the 24th became the time for the exchange of gifts, the Christmas mass was set into the late afternoon of that day.

In North America the centrality of the morning of the 25th of December as the time for the family to open presents has led, with the exception of Catholic and some Lutheran and Episcopal churches, to the virtual end of holding church services on that day, a striking illustration of the way societal customs influence liturgical practices.

Given the importance of Christmas as one of the major Christian feast days, most European countries observe, under Christian influence, December 26 as a second Christmas holiday.

This practice recalls the ancient Christian liturgical notion that the celebration of Christmas, as well as that of Easter and of Pentecost, should last the entire week.

The weeklong observance, however, was successively reduced to Christmas day and a single additional holiday on December Eastern Orthodox churches honour Christmas on December However, for those that continue to use the Julian calendar for their liturgical observances, this date corresponds to January 7 on the Gregorian calendar.

The churches of the Oriental Orthodox communion celebrate Christmas variously. For example, in Armenia, the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the church uses its own calendar; the Armenian Apostolic Church honours January 6 as Christmas.

Congregations of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria follow the date of December 25 on the Julian calendar, which corresponds to Khiak 29 on the ancient Coptic calendar.

With the spread of Christianity beyond Europe and North America, the celebration of Christmas was transferred to societies throughout the non-Western world.

In many of these countries, Christians are not the majority population, and, therefore, the religious holiday has not become a cultural holiday.

Christmas customs in these societies thus often echo Western traditions because the people were exposed to Christianity as a religion and cultural artifact of the West.

In South and Central America, unique religious and secular traditions mark the Christmas celebration. Christmas is a great summer festival in Brazil , including picnics, fireworks, and other festivities as well as a solemn procession of priests to the church to celebrate midnight mass.

In some parts of India the evergreen Christmas tree is replaced by the mango tree or the bamboo tree, and houses are decorated with mango leaves and paper stars.

Christmas largely remains a Christian holiday and is otherwise not widely observed. Japan serves as illustration of a different sort. Article Media.

Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Introduction Origin and development Contemporary customs in the West Contemporary customs in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy Contemporary customs in other areas.

Hans J. See Article History. Top Questions. Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.

Christmas is celebrated on December 24 with the traditional Julskinka ham. Glogg, a mulled, spiced wine, is also enjoyed during this season.

Now the Christmas tree is a fixture of Finnish Christmas celebrations, which also involve special foods, including rice porridge made with milk and cinnamon , a baked glazed ham,….

The government removed Christmas from its list of national holidays in December 29, Archived PDF from the original on October 1, Retrieved September 30, Gallup, Inc.

December 24, Archived from the original on November 16, Retrieved December 16, The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

World Religions in Practice. Coptic Orthodox Church Network. Archived from the original on December 28, Retrieved January 17, Dutchman News. December 17, Archived from the original on December 26, Retrieved January 12, The New York Times.

Archived from the original on June 12, Retrieved June 12, The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved December 26, Pew Research Center.

December 18, Archived from the original on March 10, Retrieved May 23, Who Celebrate It". Archived from the original on December 7, Christmas: A Candid History.

University of California Press. In the Council of Tours proclaimed that the entire period between Christmas and Epiphany should be considered part of the celebration, creating what became known as the twelve days of Christmas, or what the English called Christmastide.

On the last of the twelve days, called Twelfth Night, various cultures developed a wide range of additional special festivities.

The variation extends even to the issue of how to count the days. If December 26, the day after Christmas, is the first day, then Twelfth Night falls on January 6, the evening of Epiphany itself.

After Christmas and Epiphany were in place, on December 25 and January 6, with the twelve days of Christmas in between, Christians slowly adopted a period called Advent, as a time of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas.

Introduction to Christian Liturgy. Fortress Press. We noted above that late medieval calendars introduced a reduced three-day octave for Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost that were retained in Roman Catholic and passed into Lutheran and Anglican calendars.

Retrieved November 27, Office of Personnel Management. September 1, December Holiday Customs. Lorenz Educational Press. Retrieved November 18, September 15, The Christmas Encyclopedia 3 ed.

Christians believe that a number of passages in the Bible are prophecies about future events in the life of the promised Messiah or Jesus Christ.

Most, but not all, of those prophecies are found in the Old Testament Born in Bethlehem Micah : "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Juda, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

The birth narrative in Luke's gospel is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. Leaving their hometown of Nazareth, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to pay taxes.

Arriving late, they find no vacancy at the inn. They are, however, offered a stable, most likely a second room attached to a family dwelling where animals were sheltered—a room that would offer some privacy from the main family room for cooking, eating, and sleeping.

This "city of David" is the little town of Bethlehem of Christmas-carol fame, a starlit silhouette indelibly etched on Christmas cards. No sooner was the baby born than angels announced the news to shepherds who spread the word.

Prendergast, Robert C. Degenhard, Therese Brown, Robert C. Retrieved November 24, Toward the Origins of Christmas. Peeters Publishers.

Roll, p. Thomas Nelson. November 3, Retrieved April 2, Christmas is not really about the celebration of a birth date at all.

It is about the celebration of a birth. The fact of the date and the fact of the birth are two different things. The calendrical verification of the feast itself is not really that important What is important to the understanding of a life-changing moment is that it happened, not necessarily where or when it happened.

The message is clear: Christmas is not about marking the actual birth date of Jesus. It is about the Incarnation of the One who became like us in all things but sin Hebrews and who humbled Himself "to the point of death-even death on a cross" Phil.

Christmas is a pinnacle feast, yes, but it is not the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a memorial, a remembrance, of the birth of Jesus, not really a celebration of the day itself.

We remember that because the Jesus of history was born, the Resurrection of the Christ of faith could happen. Archived from the original on April 7, The origins of the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as the dates on which they are observed, are rooted deeply in the history of the early church.

There has been much scholarly debate concerning the exact time of the year when Jesus was born, and even in what year he was born.

Actually, we do not know either. The best estimate is that Jesus was probably born in the springtime, somewhere between the years of 6 and 4 BC, as December is in the middle of the cold rainy season in Bethlehem , when the sheep are kept inside and not on pasture as told in the Bible.

The lack of a consistent system of timekeeping in the first century, mistakes in later calendars and calculations, and lack of historical details to cross-reference events have led to this imprecision in fixing Jesus' birth.

This suggests that the Christmas celebration is not an observance of a historical date, but a commemoration of the event in terms of worship.

Harvard University. Throughout the Christian world the 25th of December is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ.

There was a time when the churches were not united regarding the date of the joyous event. Many Christians kept their Christmas in April, others in May, and still others at the close of September, till finally December 25 was agreed upon as the most appropriate date.

The choice of that day was, of course, wholly arbitrary, for neither the exact date not the period of the year at which the birth of Christ occurred is known.

For purposes of commemoration, however, it is unimportant whether the celebration shall fall or not at the precise anniversary of the joyous event.

West Publishing Company. While the Washington and King birthdays are exclusively secular holidays, Christmas has both secular and religious aspects.

Associated Press. December 22, Retrieved December 24, God's human face: the Christ-icon. Sinai and the Monastery of St.

Retrieved December BBC News. Archived from the original on November 11, Retrieved December 12, Oxford University Press.

A History of Foreign Words in English. Archived from the original on January 13, Retrieved December 13, January 22, New Catholic Encyclopedia.

Catholic University of America Press. Part Commemorations of the Martyrs. Archived February 21, , at the Wayback Machine.

See the first entry. The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Retrieved February 3, Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopedia.

Archived from the original on January 11, Archived from the original on September 23, Retrieved December 27, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.

Kessinger Publishing Company. Archived from the original on November 22, Towards the Origin of Christmas. Kok Pharos Publishing. Archived from the original on December 31, Retrieved December 25, John Archived September 18, , at the Wayback Machine A sun connection is possible because Christians considered Jesus to be the "Sun of righteousness" prophesied in Malachi "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.

You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Biblical Archaeology Society. Archived from the original on December 14, Retrieved February 24, Therefore let us celebrate the festival Historical Dictionary of Catholicism.

Retrieved December 23, The Origins of Christmas. Liturgical Press. Online here [1] Archived February 19, , at the Wayback Machine.

Yale, p. Roll, Susan K. Archived from the original on November 2, Retrieved June 20, Archived from the original on December 11, Retrieved November 17, In: Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen , part 1.

Second edition. Note that the first edition, , doesn't have the discussion of Natalis Solis Invicti ; also Sol Invictus The Origins of the Liturgical Year.

The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome. Archived from the original on May 10, Westerfield The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought.

January , pp. Retrieved September 10, Christmas in America: a History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. History Today. Archived from the original on December 29, Retrieved December 28, There is no doubt that A Christmas Carol is first and foremost a story concerned with the Christian gospel of liberation by the grace of God, and with incarnational religion which refuses to drive a wedge between the world of spirit and the world of matter.

Both the Christmas dinners and the Christmas dinner-carriers are blessed; the cornucopia of Christmas food and feasting reflects both the goodness of creation and the joy of heaven.

It is a significant sign of a shift in theological emphasis in the nineteenth century from a stress on the Atonement to a stress on the Incarnation, a stress which found outward and visible form in the sacramentalism of the Oxford Movement, the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival.

In the course of the century, under the influence of the Oxford Movement's concern for the better observance of Christian festivals, Christmas became more and more prominent.

By the later part of the century cathedrals provided special services and musical events, and might have revived ancient special charities for the poor — though we must not forget the problems for large: parish-church cathedrals like Manchester, which on one Christmas Day had no less than eighty couples coming to be married the signing of the registers lasted until four in the afternoon.

The popularity of Dickens' A Christmas Carol played a significant part in the changing consciousness of Christmas and the way in which it was celebrated.

The popularity of his public readings of the story is an indication of how much it resonated with the contemporary mood, and contributed to the increasing place of the Christmas celebration in both secular and religious ways that was firmly established by the end of the nineteenth century.

January 11, January 1, John Milton. University Press of Kentucky. Milton was raised an Anglican, trained to become an Anglican minister, and remained an Anglican through the signing of the subscription books of Cambridge University in both and , which demanded an allegiance to the state church and its Thirty-nine Articles.

His father had wanted him to practice law but Milton considered writing poetry his life's work. At 21 years old, he wrote a poem, "On the morning of Christ's Nativity," a work that is still widely read during Christmas.

Christmas: Festival of Incarnation. Worship: Reformed According to Scripture. Westminster John Knox Press. Within a few years the Reformed church calendar was fairly well established.

The heart of it was the weekly observance of the resurrection on the Lord's Day. Instead of liturgical seasons being observed, "the five evangelical feast days" were observed: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.

They were chosen because they were understood to mark the essential stages in the history of salvation. Journal of the History of Ideas.

However, when Thomas Mocket, rector of Gilston in Hertfordshire, decried such vices in a pamphlet to justify the parliamentary 'ban' of Christmas, effective since June Christmastide: its history, festivities and carols.

London: John Russell Smith. Domestic Annals of Scotland , p. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to Archived from the original on May 19, Retrieved February 29, Scotland: a very short introduction.

Very short introductions. The Victorian Christmas Book. The Diary of a Country Parson — Ayer Publishing. Merry Christmas!

Harvard University Press. Moravian Christmas in the South. Christmas in Colonial and Early America. World Book Encyclopedia. Carols were altered by substituting names of prominent political leaders for royal characters in the lyrics, such as the Three Kings.

Church bells were melted down for their bronze to increase the national treasury, and religious services were banned on Christmas Day. The cake of kings, too, came under attack as a symbol of royalty.

It survived, however, for a while with a new name—the cake of equality. Archived from the original on November 1, How did people celebrate the Christmas during the French Revolution?

In white-knuckled terror behind closed doors. Churches across France were renamed "Temples of Reason" and the Notre Dame was "de-baptized" for the occasion.

The Commune spared no expense: "The first festival of reason, which took place in Notre Dame, featured a fabricated mountain, with a temple of philosophy at its summit and a script borrowed from an opera libretto.

TUC press release. Archived from the original PDF on June 3, USA Today. Archived from the original on November 6, Retrieved April 30, What Dickens did advocate in his story was "the spirit of Christmas".

Sociologist James Barnett has described it as Dickens's "Carol Philosophy", which "combined religious and secular attitudes toward to celebration into a humanitarian pattern.

It excoriated individual selfishness and extolled the virtues of brotherhood, kindness, and generosity at Christmas. Dickens preached that at Christmas men should forget self and think of others, especially the poor and the unfortunate.

A Christmas Carol. Broadview Press. Wordplay: origins, meanings, and usage of the English language. University of Toronto Press, , p. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.

Christmas in My Heart , Volume 10, p. Review and Herald Pub Assoc, Inverloch Historical Society Inc. Archived from the original on May 26, Retrieved July 25, University of Wisconsin.

Compendium of symbolic and ritual plants in Europe , p. Edition Stackpole Books Godey's copied it exactly, except he removed the Queen's tiara, and Prince Albert's moustache, to remake the engraving into an American scene.

Archived from the original on December 19, A History of Graphic Design. Straus November 16, Congressional Research Service. Archived PDF from the original on January 3, Retrieved January 2, Christmas Past.

London: Sidgwick and Jackson. London: Metro Publishing. The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 6, Retrieved October 23, A chapter on representations of Christmas in Soviet cinema could, in fact be the shortest in this collection: suffice it to say that there were, at least officially, no Christmas celebrations in the atheist socialist state after its foundation in Religious Policy in the Soviet Union.

Cambridge University Press. The League sallied forth to save the day from this putative religious revival. Antireligioznik obliged with so many articles that it devoted an entire section of its annual index for to anti-religious training in the schools.

More such material followed in , and a flood of it the next year. It recommended what Lenin and others earlier had explicitly condemned—carnivals, farces, and games to intimidate and purge the youth of religious belief.

It suggested that pupils campaign against customs associated with Christmas including Christmas trees and Easter. Some schools, the League approvingly reported, staged an anti-religious day on the 31st of each month.

Not teachers but the League's local set the programme for this special occasion. Syracuse University Press. As observed by Nicholas Brianchaninov, writing in —, after the NEP and just as the worst of collectivization was beginning, the Soviets deemed it necessary to drive into the heads of the people the axiom that religion was the synthesis of everything most harmful to humanity.

It must be presented as the enemy of man and society, of life and learning, of progress. In caricatures, articles, Bezbozhnik , Antireligioznik , League of Militant Atheists propaganda and films.

School courses [were give] on conducting the struggle against religion how to profane a church, break windows, objects of piety.

The young, always eager to be with the latest trend, often responded to such propaganda. In Moscow in children were brought to spit on the crucifixes at Christmas.

Priests in Tiraspol diocese were sometimes betrayed by their own young parishioners, leading to their imprisonment and even death, and tearing their families apart.

But, as with most of Yeltsin's pronouncements, the holiday stirs a controversy". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 22, Retrieved November 22, For the first time in more than seven decades, Christmas—celebrated today by Russian Orthodox Christians—is a full state holiday across Russia's vast and snowy expanse.

Yeltsin's ambitious plan to revive the traditions of Old Russia, the republic's legislature declared last month that Christmas, long ignored under atheist Communist ideology, should be written back into the public calendar.

Polosin, head of the Russian legislature's committee on religion. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on January 6, Retrieved March 11, The Daily Telegraph.

Archived from the original on May 29, Retrieved April 4, June 21, A History of Denmark. Macmillan International Higher Education.

It is quite normal to go to church on Christmas Eve, and many people like to celebrate a christening or wedding in church. The Church is especially important at the end of a life; by far the majority of funerals are still conducted in a church by a minister.

The United Methodist Church. Retrieved December 9, Christianity Today. Archived from the original on January 29, Archived from the original on December 27, January 24, November 26, Archived from the original on September 14, Italy Magazine.

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Retrieved December 2, The Christmas tree as we know it seemed to emerge in Lutheran lands in Germany in the sixteenth century.

Although no specific city or town has been identified as the first to have a Christmas tree, records for the Cathedral of Strassburg indicate that a Christmas tree was set up in that church in during Martin Bucer's superintendency.

Lutheran Spokesman. The Christmas tree became a widespread custom among German Lutherans by the eighteenth century. The Feast of Christmas.

German Lutherans brought the decorated Christmas tree with them; the Moravians put lighted candles on those trees. A Short History of Christianity.

Many Lutherans continued to set up a small fir tree as their Christmas tree, and it must have been a seasonal sight in Bach's Leipzig at a time when it was virtually unknown in England, and little known in those farmlands of North America where Lutheran immigrants congregated.

Canadian Christmas Traditions. The eight-pointed star became a popular manufactured Christmas ornament around the s and many people place a star on the top of their Christmas tree to represent the Star of Bethlehem.

The School Journal. Christmas is the occasional of family reunions. Grandmother always has the place of honor. As the time approaches for enjoying the tree, she gathers her grandchildren about her, to tell them the story of the Christ child, with the meaning of the Christ child, with the meaning of the Christmas tree; how the evergreen is meant to represent the life everlasting, the candle lights to recall the light of the world, and the star at the top of the tree is to remind them of the star of Bethlehem.

The same ambiguity is seen in that most familiar of angels, the angel on top of the Christmas tree. This decoration, popularized in the nineteenth century, recalls the place of the angels in the Christmas story Luke 2.

When Santa was a shaman. Paul: Llewellyn Publications , Lowe His biographer, Eddius Stephanus, relates that while Boniface was serving as a missionary near Geismar, Germany, he had enough of the locals' reverence for the old gods.

Taking an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Norse god Thor, Boniface chopped the tree down and dared Thor to zap him for it.

When nothing happened, Boniface pointed out a young fir tree amid the roots of the oak and explained how this tree was a more fitting object of reverence as it pointed towards the Christian heaven and its triangular shape was reminiscent of the Christian trinity.

The Christmas Archives. Archived from the original on December 21, Retrieved December 18, Fashion Era.

Archived from the original on December 18, It is said to resemble the star of Bethlehem. The Mexicans call it the flower of the Holy Night, but usually it is called poinsettia after the man who introduced it to America, Dr Joel Poinsett.

Archived from the original on January 22, Retrieved February 17, Catholic Culture. Retrieved December 10, A Flame of Love. Retrieved October 28, Retrieved April 10, The legend of St.

Nicholas, who became the bishop of Myra in the beginning of the fourth century, is the next link in the Christmas-gift chain. Legend has it that during his life the priest rode across Asia Minor bestowing gifts upon poor children.

Princeton University Press. This exchange network of ceremonial welcome was mirrored in a second reciprocity allowing early Christians to imagine their own magi: the phenomenon of giving gifts.

Most people today trace the practice of giving gifts on Christmas Day to the three gifts that the Magi gave to Jesus. Sociology of Giving.

SAGE Publications. For the Enlightenment educationalist, gift-giving turned out to be a relic of a pagan custom, namely, the Roman Saturnalia.

After the introduction of the Julian calendar in Rome, the 25th of December became the day of Sol invictus when people greeted the winter solstice.

It was the day of the Sun's rebirth, and it was the day of the Christmas festivities — although it was only in the year AD that it appears to have become established as the day of Jesus's birth see Pannenberg The Eastern Church adopted this date even later, towards the end of the 4th century, having previously regarded the 6th of January as the day of gift-giving, as it still is in the Italian community of Befana.

The winter solstice was a time of festivity in every traditional culture, and the Christian Christmas probably took its place within this mythical context of the solar cult.

Its core dogma of the Incarnation, however, solidly established the giving and receiving of gifts as the structural principle of that recurrent yet unique event.

But in reality it was they, together with all their fellow men, who received the gift of God through man's renewed participation in the divine life' ibid.

The regions of Italy: a reference guide to history and culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra replaced Sabino as the patron saint of the city A Greek from what is now Turkey, he lived in the early fourth century.

Stories Behind Men of Faith. Nicholas was born in the Greek city of Patara around AD. The son of a businessman named Theophanes and his wife, Nonna, the child's earliest years were spent in Myra As a port on the Mediterranean Sea, in the middle of the sea lanes that linked Egypt, Greece and Rome, Myra was a destination for traders, fishermen, and merchant sailors.

Spawned by the spirit of both the city's Greek heritage and the ruling Roman government, cultural endeavors such as art, drama, and music were mainstays of everyday life.

Archived from the original on May 13, Marshall Cavendish. Basil — ". Archived from the original on January 12, Bezprawnik in Polish.

Archived from the original on December 24, Archived from the original on June 16, November 2,

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