Christmas is celebrated every year on December 25 in most Western Christian churches (Protestant and Roman Catholic), and on the civil date of January 7 (1900 to 2099) in Eastern Orthodox churches which have not accepted either the Gregorian calendar or the Revised Julian Calendar reforms.
The word "Christmas" is often abbreviated to "Xmas", the "X" being an uppercase Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of "Christ" in Greek. The abbreviation is widely but not universally accepted; some view it as demeaning to the name of Christ.
Many aspects of the Christian holiday, 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.
Originally, Christmas' date was set to correspond with Greco-Roman festivals. As early as A.D. 354, the Birth of Christ was celebrated on Dec. 25th in Rome. Other cities had other traditional dates.
In most Western countries, Christmas celebrations take have both religious and secular aspects. The religious celebrations start with the celebration of Advent at 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[?]. In the period 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 which the birth of Jesus is celebrated. At Christmas itself, there are special services, often including a Midnight Mass[?], or a Mass of the Nativity[?].
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[?], which often take place over several weeks before Christmas Day, and besides the religious celebrations which happen in parallel, it 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. However, some Christian religions and denominations (like the Jehovah's Witnesses and various Puritan groups), disdain the celebration of holidays without explicit Biblical authorization, and so neither celebrate Christmas nor exchange Christmas cards.
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. Christmas is celebrated to a lesser extent in the United States, where Thanksgiving is generally considered the major festival in the year. 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 somewhat popular in Japan, encouraged by the commercial sector who see the opportunities in encouraging gift-giving. 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.
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 Christmas Day and Boxing Day are called (the equivalent of) First and Second Christmas Day.
The traditional Christmas flower is the poinsettia.
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 become very popular over the years, and have passed into popular culture and been accepted as part of the tradition of Christmas.
For some shops and other businesses Christmas Day is the only day in the year that they are closed.
See also :
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 the 25th of December is in Hippolytus?[?] (c. 202) commentary on Daniel. Jesus, he says, was born at Bethlehem on the 25th of December, 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 20th of May. 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 17th of November, 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 28th of March. 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 the 6th of January to the 25th of December, 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 the 6th of January, accused the Romans 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. Chrysostom[?] also testifies the 25th of December 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 Jan. 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 Cadiz, from the beginning. It certainly originated in the West, but spread quickly eastwards. In 353-361 it was observed at the court of Constantius[?]. 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 the 6th of January, 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 of Antioch. This was under Pope Anastasius[?], 398-400.
John or Wahan of Nice, in a letter printed by Combefisinhis Historiamonoizeiitarurn, 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. Epiphany and Christmas were not made judicial non dies until 5~4.
Curiously, the most famous quotation of them all about Christmas, "Christmas, bah, humbug!", atributed to Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, is a misquotation since Scrooge never speaks the line. The passage from which it is derived is as follows: