Christmas is a Christian holy day celebrated to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Many historians do not believe that December 25 is the actual birth date of Jesus. It is possible early Christians selected the date by counting nine months from conception, which is believed to have occurred March25, or the spring equinox. (This date is also celebrated as Annunciation). Other historians believe the date was selected to correspond with a Roman feast day, or it could have been chosen to coincide with the winter solstice, which was celebrated by most of the world that was non-Christian at that time in history.
It is widely accepted that Christmas Day is a commemoration of Jesus’ birth. Whether he was born on December 25 or not has become irrelevant in modern culture. There are two accounts of His birth in the Bible. There is one in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:18); the other is in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:26 and 2:40).
The word Christmas comes from the Middle English word Christemasse, meaning Christ’s Mass. In the present day there have been other variations, including X-mas or Xmas. It is a widely held belief that using Xmas or X-mas is somehow derogatory. Some people believe that the “X” is used to cross Christ out of Christmas, but this is not necessarily true. The “X” comes from the Greek. Remember that early Christians did not speak, read or write in English. Greek was widely spoken at the time. In Greek, the first letter of Christ is “X” (chi).
Although many people would like to believe that Christmas is only about the birth of Christ, this is also not true. Many different early cultural celebrations went into the making of Christmas as it is known today. Partying and presents came from Saturnalia (the Roman holiday). Decorations and charity-work also came from the Romans, from their New Year’s celebrations. Food and the yule log came from Germanic traditions. Images of Santa Claus also came from the Germans. The Scandinavians, who were largely pagan back then, brought some of their traditions of celebrating the solstice, including the Christmas tree. Mistletoe, holly and all those other things you see at Christmas are also pagan in origin. The first known Christmas was possibly celebrated in the year 354.
Back in the day, in the Middle Ages, Christmas was an excuse to party. All the old traditions of Saturnalia, getting drunk and running around being a complete jackass was apart of Christmas. It is believed that having a huge Christmas dinner started somewhere around the mid-4th century. Then the Puritans ruined everything by saying all the naked debauchery was not the proper way to honour Christ, so the Roman Catholic Church suggested a more solemn celebration. At one point, Christmas was even banned in England, but people started rioting, going around putting holly on people’s doors as a way of protesting.
By the time America came into the picture, only certain parts of America celebrated. Because the Puritans were in Massachusetts, they didn’t celebrate Christmas, but people in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York did. And then everyone who celebrated Christmas did it differently. Then after the Revolution, Christmas was considered an English holiday, so no one celebrated Christmas after the Americans declared their independence from England.
After several stories and poems were written in the early 1800s, Christmas started making a comeback. Stories like A Christmas Carol and A Visit from Saint Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) got people back into the Christmas spirit; this also opened the floodgates introducing commercialism into Christmas. Some say Christmas was completely ruined once the idea of giving gifts became more popular.
Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870 because Congress decided that the day espoused such values as home, children and family life. Congress also noted that exchanging gifts and cards, as well as decorating evergreen trees was also important. There was some controversy, but in 1999 Congress acknowledged the secular importance of the holiday because some people felt that the church and state should be separated and that celebrating the holy day of one specific religion was an illegal endorsement of Christianity.
Some devout orthodox Christians don’t celebrate Christmas in the modern way it is known today. They don’t put up Christmas trees because it is considered too pagan. They don’t give gifts because that’s too Roman. They don’t do this or do that because they would like to believe in a Christmas that is not influenced by pagan rituals or the celebrations of other cultures. If it doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus, they are not interested. There are also some Christian groups that do not attend church on Christmas because of speculation that Jesus was not born on December 25.
Non-Christians created controversy because they feel that the word Christmas has religious connotations and because Christmas is actually very pagan, they think everything should be called “holiday” instead of Christmas. Let’s have a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. Let’s have holiday sales instead of Christmas sales.
Then there are the people who don’t believe in anything and they feel like anything Christmas is encroaching on that seperation of church and state ground. They don’t want to see Christmas trees in the courthouse. They definitely don’t to see nativity scenes.
Lastly, there are those that belong to other religious denominations and see that Christmas has now become a secular and modern part of culture. Muslims, Jews and atheists freely celebrate Christmas because they feel that even Christians are not celebrating Christmas as it was originally intended to be celebrated. If Christians are more focused on Christmas sales, Christmas lights and partying, then non-Christians can join in the fun too without feeling like their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) are being encroached upon. Even cultures where the population is largely non-Christian have started celebrating Christmas in the secular way (think Japan and China).