“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.” George Carlin
Christmas is celebrated around the world, also in countries where the population is mostly non-Christian. In Catholic countries people hold religious processions in the days leading up to Christmas and the attendance of mass on Christmas Eve (evening of the 24th of December) is part of the celebrations.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, described in the Old Testament on two occasions: in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke. According to these gospels the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary who told her that she would have a son called Jesus, who would be the Son of God. This is celebrated on the 25th of March and is called the Annunciation. Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth (where they lived) to Bethlehem, because they were ordered by emperor Caesar Augustus to register for a census. At arrival, the inn was full, so they spent the night in a stable. That night, Jesus was born. Shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem heard about the birth of Jesus by an angel and were the first to see the child.
Wise men (magi) from the East saw a star in the sky (known as the Star of Bethlehem) that signaled the birth of a new king. Three of them, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, came to Judea to worship Jesus, the new king, and brought him gifts. The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 and is in some churches the official end of the Christmas season.
Many modern Christmas customs, like the decoration of trees, are influenced by pagan winter festivals, such as Roman Saturnalia, celebrated at the winter solstice on the 25th of December.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on the 25th of December was in 336 AD, during the reign of emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity in 312 AD. His conversion ended Roman persecution of Christians, but pagan traditions, such as the celebration of Saturnalia, continued. After years of trying to abolish these pagan festivals, the church understood it be better to allowing them. So, some elements of the celebration were kept during the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Later on, Romans brought Christianity to Northern Europe and the Germanic and Celtic solstice rituals were also incorporated into Christmas. In 350 AD, Pope Julius I declared the 25th of December as the official date to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
During the Middle Ages the forty days before Christmas became known as the forty days of St. Martin, now celebrated as Advent. Christmas itself became a feast with indulgence in eating, dancing, singing and sporting featuring lavish dinners and pageants.
The tradition of giving gifts has its roots in the Three Kings´ offering to baby Jesus. This is the reason why in some countries, like Spain and in some Eastern Orthodox countries, gift giving takes place on the 6th of January.
Although gifts were to remind people of the offerings to Jesus and the gift of God to humankind, the act of gift giving became more commercialized and people in the US now spend nearly USD 174 billion on gifts.
a Christian holiday that is celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ or the period of time that comes before and after this holiday (source: Merriam Webster).
The English Christmas and Dutch Kerstmis come from late Old English Cristes mæsse, from Christ + mass. Christ comes from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), Messiah, anointed. Mæsse comes from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist.
Spanish Navidad and Italian Natale come from Latin nativitas, birth, for the celebration of the birth of Christ.
Christmas in other languages:
Spanish: la Navidad
Italian: il Natale