Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated once a year around the entire world by people other than just Christians. Yes this holiday is a religious holiday, but it can be celebrated in non religious ways. It is celebrated every December 25th and usually a time for friends and families to get together and exchange gifts and all these other Christmas traditions I will talk about later.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated was in 336 on December 25th. This supposedly was the birthdate of Jesus Christ, according to Pope Julius I. Christmas was founded in Palestine but first celebrated in Rome, Italy. From around 1840 celebrating Christmas became more widespread and it wasn’t till 1870 that Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States.
Back when Christmas was first celebrated, it was a major religious holiday. But since then, how it was originally celebrated has changed a lot from how we celebrate it today. Most people use this holiday as a time to decorate houses and trees,and get together and exchange gifts. Most of these traditions come from Europe and weren’t practiced by Americans till the first half of the 19th century. Although these things can be somewhat traced back to religious purposes these things did not occur like they did back when Jesus was born.
Christmas spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. In the early 17th century Oliver Cromwell, an English military and political leader, and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645 and cancelled Christmas for them. It wasn’t brought back till Charles II was brought to the throne.
Since the Pilgrims were orthodox Christmas was not a thing in the Americas and anyone that showed Christmas spirit was fines five shillings. Christmas was not embraced in America till the 19th century. Jews do not celebrate Christmas because they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Traditions and other things associated to Christmas:
There are so many Christmas traditions that people have and there are so many things that are associated with Christmas. The following are some of the more common ones in America:
Candles: Candles have many different reasons why they are associated to Christmas. They were used during ancient winter solstice celebrations for a way of remembering that spring would soon come. The earliest records of candles for Christmas was in the middle ages when they used a large candle to represent the star of Bethlehem. The most common use of candles is are Candlelight Services, services when the church is only lit by candles. They were also originally used to decorate Christmas trees.
Candy Canes: Candy canes originated from Germany around 250 years ago as straight white sugar sticks. The “J” can stand for Jesus, the white can represent the purity of Jesus, the red stripes for the blood he shed when he died on the cross, and the peppermint flavor for the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.
Christmas Carols: The first Christmas carols were sung thousands of years ago in Europe at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles, except they weren’t Christmas carols they were pagan songs. Christians took over this tradition and started singing Christian songs instead of pagan songs, and they soon started singing them at Christmas services. Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called 'Waits'.
Christmas Cards: The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who helped set up the Post Office, where he was an Assistant Keeper, and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people. Sir Henry and his friend came up with the idea and sold them for 1 shilling each. About 1000 were printed and sold. They are very rare and cost thousands of dollars to buy now. The price for them dropped half way and started to become more popular in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
Christmas Eve: Christmas Eve has a lot of its own traditions but the most popular one that is still done today is Christmas Eve Mass or Midnight Mass Church Service. This is the most important church service in the Christmas season in many countries. Some people even fast throughout this day and then eat their meal after the mass. Some people have their traditions of giving presents and bringing in the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve instead of the day of. This is also when Christmas caroling is usually done. In the UK they have many superstitions that go along with Christmas Eve. One is said that girls could find out the initials, or even have visions, of the person they would marry on Christmas Eve. They’d have to bake a special cake in silence and then prick their initials on top and fur it by the hearth and your true love's initials would show up the next morning. Another superstition is that farm and wild animals would kneel at midnight in honor of Jesus being born or that they could even talk.
The Colors of Christmas: The main colors associated with Christmas is red, green, white, gold, and blue. Each color represents something that has to do with Christmas. The color green, one of the most common colors, comes from evergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe. These are used to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn't last forever. Now the most common use of green for Christmas is Christmas Trees. ANother one of the more common Christmas color is Red. An early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam. Red is also the color of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross, and is also the color of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nicholas and then also became Santa's uniform. ANother color associated to Christmas is Gold. Gold is the color of the Sun and light which is very important in the dark winter nights. It was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus by one of the wise men and traditionally it's the color used to show the star that the wise men followed. White is often associated with purity and peace in western cultures. The snow of winter is also very white. White is used by most churches as the color of Christmas, when the altar is covered with a white cloth. The color blue is often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! So it would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show she was very important. It also represents the sky and Heaven.
St. Nicholas/ Santa Claus: St. Nicholas was a guy who went around on Christmas Eve and put bags of gold out in front of the poor people's homes. Towards the 16th century the stories of St. Nicholas started to become unpopular and so they decided to get it back up again by creating a person called Santa who flies to each house and delivers presents on Christmas Eve when everyone is asleep.
Christmas Trees: The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. As time went on Christmas trees started becoming for and more popular and still is a huge tradition most families partake in today.
Presents: Christmas itself is really about a big present that God gave the world about 2000 years ago, Jesus. All over the world, families and friends give presents to each other and most children believe they are brought by someone like Santa, St Nicholas, etc. These presents are also left in different places. In most of Europe, the presents are left in shoes or boots put out by the children. In Italy, the UK and the USA presents are left in stockings, often left hanging by a fire place. In many countries, presents for friends and family may be left under the Christmas Tree. In the UK, they are often opened on Christmas day morning with all the family together.
Overall, Christmas is a time for families to get together and spend time with one another and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas can be celebrated in many traditions but it is usually with family/friends and opening gifts and just reconnection. Christmas has changed a lot from when it was first celebrated but its main focus is still the birth of Jesus Christ.