Definition of Christmas: Christmas is
defined as a Christian holiday and annual church festival held on December 25 celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Christmas is celebrated by giving special gifts, greetings, and providing hospitality for family and friends.
The word Christmas derives from the late Old English 'Cristes maesse' meaning
"Christ" and "mass".
Fact 1 - History of Christmas: The birth of Jesus was so important to
Christians that people wanted to celebrate and remember this special time. The
problem was that nobody knew the exact day and
date that Jesus was born, nor whether Jesus was born in the winter or the
Fact 2 - History of Christmas: At the time in history when Jesus was
born there no accurate records were kept relating to births and birth
certificates did not exist.
Fact 3 - History of Christmas: Someone had to make the decision of when
this momentous event should be celebrated. This article contains the history of
how Christmas began.
Fact 4 - History of Christmas: Jesus was born in Judea (now Palestine)
during a time of great turbulence when the Roman Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) had
conquered half the lands of the known world encompassing all the lands of the
Mediterranean, north-western Europe and the Near East.
Fact 5 - History of Christmas:
We know exactly where Jesus was born due to words of the Bible. The gospel
of Matthew states that "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of
Herod the king." Luke 2:1-7 describes his parents, Joseph and Mary, as both
being residents of Nazareth in the Galilee. But there is no mention of a date of
Fact 6 - History of Christmas: The history of Christmas is a combination
of old Pagan observations and traditions merged with new customs when
Christianity become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Fact 7 - History of Christmas: The
seven day Roman public holiday of Saturnalia (December 19 to December 25),
celebrated to honor the Saturn the god of agriculture and liberation, was
observed at the winter solstice. The festival of Saturnalia was
highly anticipated as an excessive and fun-filled event in which lavish
feasting, the exchange of gifts, practical jokes and the decoration of trees
were strongly featured.
Fact 8 - History of Christmas:
Saturnalia also included events relating to liberation and freedom. Serious
matters were barred and no businesses were allowed to open during the
festivities. Controlled levels of freedom and license were given to slaves
including the reversal of social roles such as with masters and slaves. The
festival of Saturnalia often got out of hand and Emperor Caligula (AD 12-41)
sought to restrict it to five days, but with little success.
Fact 9 - History of Christmas: The
Romans had historically celebrated the December 25 as the shortest day of the
year, the day when there is less sunlight than on any other day. On the shortest
day of the year Romans began to worship a new sun god called Sol Invictus by
kindling lights in token of festivity together with prayers and offerings to
ensure that the sun returned to give them a good summer.
Fact 10 - History of Christmas: The
cult of Sol Invictus, the official sun god of the late Roman Empire, was
introduced into the Roman Empire in AD 274 by Emperor Aurelian (214-275), who
effectively made it a state religion. Another Winter Solstice festival was
introduced called the 'Dies Natalis Solis Invicti' meaning "Birthday of the
Unconquered Sun". However, many Romans clung to the old ways and elements of the
Saturnalia festival were amalgamated into the new cult.
Fact 11 - History of Christmas: Other
cultures such as the Celts, Saxons and Vikings also held celebrations at the
time of the Winter Solstice. The Viking god Thor was honored with festivals of
feasting, drinking, and dancing with sacrifices and religious rites. It was
called Yule, or Jul, and held in anticipation of the return of the sun.
Yuletide customs included decorating halls with evergreen boughs such as holly
and mistletoe, a form of pagan tree worship, and the burning of a massive Yule
Log. The Yule log was cut from an Oak tree, the symbol of the god Thor.
Fact 12 - History of Christmas: The Roman Empire was built on the
amalgamation of new and old religious beliefs and
adapting the ideas and history of other cultures. The combination of different beliefs and
of religious practices is known as Syncretism. Roman Syncretism involved the
merging, or assimilation, of traditions to assert new beliefs with an underlying
unity and acceptance of old beliefs and customs in order to pacify people and maintain the power of
the Roman Empire.
Fact 13 - History of Christmas: The
tradition of Roman Syncretism helped with the Christianization of the whole of
the Roman Empire. The only man with the power to instigate such a change was the
Roman Emperor. The Emperor Constantine (c280 - 337AD), who became the
first Christian emperor, was brought up in the Sol Invicta cult. His conversion
to Christianity began with a vision seen by Constantine during a military
campaign in Gaul. The Emperor Constantine proclaimed that, aided by the divine
power of God, he had come to bring peace and prosperity to all lands.
Fact 14 - History of Christmas: In 313
the Emperor Constantine issued the "Edict of Milan," which granted official
toleration of Christianity and other religions. Constantine did not make
Christianity the official religion of the empire and condoned both Christianity
and paganism during his reign.
Fact 15 - History of Christmas: The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on
December 25 was in 336AD, during the reign of the first Christian Roman Emperor
Constantine (c280 - 337AD). In 354AD, Pope Julius I, the bishop of Rome,
officially declared that the birth of Jesus, Christmas, would be celebrated on December 25.
Fact 16 - History of Christmas: Three Roman Emperors, Theodosius the
Great, Gratian and Valentinian II, issued the Edict of Thessalonica (also known
as Cunctos populos), on February 27, 380 AD ordered all subjects of the Roman
Empire to profess to the Christian faith and made Christianity the state
religion of the Roman Empire.
Fact 17 - History of Christmas: The celebration of Christmas became one
of the most important Christian festivals but the Romans, adhering to their
policy of Syncretism, allowed old Pagan observations and traditions to merged
with new Christian celebration of Christmas. Many of these old customs and
traditions still linger in
modern Christmas celebrations.
Fact 18 - History of Christmas: Evergreens such as holly and mistletoe
are still used to decorate homes at Christmas. Christians regard holly as a
symbol of the "crown of thorns" and that the berries turned from white to red
after the crucifixion. Mistletoe symbolizes renewal reflecting the resurrection
of Jesus Christ.
Fact 19 - History of Christmas: The tradition of giving gifts at
Christmas still remains,
symbolizing the gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh given to Jesus by the Wise
Fact 20 - History of Christmas: Saint Nicholas who was born c. 270 in
Patara, Lycia, Turkey and died on December 6 346 is closely associated with
Christmas. Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity, gift-giving and
his kindness to children. The Feast of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, is
celebrated by the Dutch and in America 'Sinterklaas' developed into the name of
Santa Claus. The legends surrounding Santa Claus and the association with
Christmas, were elaborated in the famous
poem 'T'was the night before Christmas' written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822.
Fact 21 - History of Christmas: The twelve days of Christmas, known as
Christmastide, start on December 25 and end the evening of the Twelfth Day of
Christmas, on January 5. During the Medieval era and the Renaissance period, the
12 Days of Christmas consisted of great celebrations with continuous feasting
and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night. Many of the old Roman customs
of the Saturnalia festival were reflected in the Christmas revels including the reversal
of social roles in which Lord of Misrule, or the Master of the Revels, who took
on the guise of the king creating havoc with preposterous pranks and orders.
Fact 22 - History of Christmas: The early Christians celebrated Christmas
in what was then called the Feast of Lights. In this early Christian Christmas festival a
Yule log was burnt to symbolize the end of the world's darkness and the rebirth
of Jesus Christ as the light of the world.
Fact 22 - History of Christmas: Christmas is celebrated by over 2275
million Christians, but Christmas is also celebrated by many non-Christians as a secular
festival. The History of Christmas provides an interesting insight into the
customs and traditions of this festive season. If you are interested in
the traditions and customs of Christmas you might enjoy reading about
Santa Claus and the
History of Halloween.