What is Christmas?
Every year on Dec. 25, we celebrate Christmas, a day for spending time with family, observing an important Christian holiday, partaking in lighthearted traditions, or just spreading some holiday cheer! Christmas has evolved over several millennia into a worldwide celebration that’s both religious and secular and chock full of fun-filled, family activities.
History of Christmas
Traditionally, Christians claim Christmas as the day on which Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born. And although many of our Christmas Day rituals and traditions evolve from that singular moment, that’s not the whole story. Because there’s the myth versus the reality of Christmas, let’s unpack what we do know.
The fact is that no one knows the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth. In the Bible’s New Testament, apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share similar stories but they never actually name the date of Jesus’ birth. December 25 is largely attributed to the first Christian historian, Sextus Julius Africanus, around AD 221.
In one view of why December 25 was chosen as the official date for Christmas, historians believe the early church wanted to link the Son of God’s birth with the “rebirth of the sun,” which arrives after the winter equinox. A second view bases the date around Jesus’ date of conception on March 25, at the spring equinox. December 25 would reveal Jesus’ birth exactly nine months later.
At one point, the Church designated January 6 as Jesus’ baptismal date and the correct date for Christmas. But by the 9th century, Christmas was observed only as a minor holy day.
By the Middle Ages, Europeans created some of the Christmas customs we recognize today. In Strasbourg, apple-decorated fir trees appear in homes. During the 17th and 18th centuries, people start to give gifts as symbolic of the Magi arriving in Bethlehem with offerings for the newborn baby. By the 19th century, fir wreaths laden with 24 candles representing the 24 days before Christmas, are later reduced to a much safer four candles. Eventually, Christmas Day traditions spread beyond Europe to Latin and North America and other places around the world.
Christmas Day becomes official in the United States
On June 26, 1870 Christmas is declared a federal holiday with most workers receiving paid time off.
Christmas is against the law in Boston but celebrated in Jamestown
English colonists arrived in America fleeing religious persecution with an orthodox Puritan contingent banning Christmas in Boston while a more lenient group shared eggnog during Christmas in Jamestown, Virginia.
- Middle Ages
Christmas becomes the “Mardi Gras” of the Middle Ages
After dutifully attending church services on Christmas Day, all heck breaks loose with displays of public drunkenness, revelry and rabble-rousing.
December 25 is designated as the official date of Christmas
With the help of astronomers and mathematicians, Sextus Julius Africanus, a 1st Millenium historian, calculates the date of Jesus’ birth as December 25.
In most countries in the world, gifts are given to friends and loved ones, symbolizing the original offerings by the Magi of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
Over several days leading up to Christmas in Mexico, there are reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s frantic search for an inn where the baby, Jesus, might be born. On Christmas Day, children take turns batting a piñata stuffed with little toys and holiday candy.
Singing carols on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day involves strolling groups of singers, gaily dressed, who sing holiday songs in town squares, business districts, or in front of private homes.
In 2015, approximately 26 million Christmas trees were purchased at an average cost of $50.82 each.
In the United States, most consumers shell out an average of $29.14 for Christmas cards.
About 64% of American consumers will buy their gifts online.
Why do we celebrate Christmas Day?
Most Christians celebrate Christmas Day on December 25 as the day that the son of God, Jesus Christ, was born.
Was Jesus born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?
Based on the New Testament accounting of Jesus birth by the apostle Luke, most Christians believe that Jesus was born at night. To celebrate, many believers attend a midnight mass or church service.
Is Christmas Eve a federal holiday?
No. Christmas Eve isn’t a federal holiday but in many parts of the United States employers will give non-essential workers either part of the day or the full day off with pay.
Make your own advent calendar
Spread the holiday excitement by making a calendar filled with sweet surprises for the month. Create your own advent calendar by using paper bags, a muffin tin, envelopes or other accessible items around the house and include a cute and quirky present to celebrate each day. These make perfect holiday gifts or a great way to #treatyourself every day in December.
The holidays are the perfect excuse to spread cheer to those around you and in doing so, help you enjoy the holiday more too. Whistle along to your favorite Christmas tune, smile at other, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Your joyful holiday spirit will be contagious.
Organize a Christmas potluck
Organize a special potluck dinner with your friends and family. One of the most important traditions of the Christmas season is to gather with those you care about and make winter a little warmer by sharing the warmth of compassion with them. Your friends and family will leave with stomachs full of food and hearts filled with happiness!
Why We Love Christmas
It has deeper meaning
The Christmas holiday focuses on honoring the sacred birth of Christ in Christian religion. The Christmas traditions as we know today stemmed from this story—the three wise men came to see the newborn Jesus bearing gifts and embody the seasonal spirit of giving gifts to others. It helps us remember the gestures of love, kindness, and forgiveness.
It's joyful, merry, and bright
Let's face it, Christmas is one of the most joyful holidays! Some celebrate it just to partake in its holiday fun or to spend time with family. Houses are decked out in colorful lights and beautifully decorated pine trees, the delicious smell of hot cocoa and spices fill the air—there's nothing that quite tops the beautiful Christmas spirit.
It's sweater season
Christmas is the one time of year where collections of finely knit, red-and-green light-up sweaters adorned with bows, glitter, and knick-knacks emerge after being stowed away in cardboard boxes all year. These glorious garments (some of which might twinkle with lights or sing a Christmas song) make their debut only during this special season.