The celebration of the nativity of Christ started in the 4th century in Rome, and is named after the special Catholic Mass dedicated to Christ (Christ’s Mass). The original date of this festival was either December 25 or January 6. The reason for this date is mostly unknown, but some speculate that was chosen to compete with the Roman celebration of the sun god during the Winter solstice. Others have said that December 25 is chosen as Christ’s birthday because it is nine months after March 25, which is believed to be the traditional date of Christ’s conception. The date became an official holiday in Rome in the 6th century when the Emperor Justinian declared December 25 “Christmas Day.”
Over the centuries, many traditions have become a part of Christmas, including Santa Claus, decorations, gift giving, and the Christmas Tree.
Santa Claus is a figure who has evolved over time into a combination of many other historical figures, including Saint Nicholas of Mrya who is the patron of children, the British Character Father Christmas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, and the characters found in many old stories and poems in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Decorations may have been started based on European practices of decorating their home during the twelve days between December 25 and January 6 to celebrate the coming Spring after the darkest day of the year (Winter Solstice).
Gift giving may have been adopted by Christians who were influenced by a similar pagan practice of gift exchange on January 1, and by the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. In later Christmas traditions, it is said to coincide with the gift of Christ to the world, the gifts given to Christ by the Magi, and because Saint Nicholas would give gifts to people in need.
The Christmas Tree is perhaps one of the oldest traditions, dating back to pre-Christian times when people would bring a fir tree into their homes. However, the earliest “Christmas” tree is dated back to the 17th century when Christians would decorate a “paradise tree” with apples symbolizing the tree of life in the Garden of Eden.
As we enjoy many ways of celebrating Christmas, we should be reminded of the greatest gift of Jesus Christ, who is our Saviour and Lord.