Christmas is an annual festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It is observed on December 25 and celebrated by billions of people around the world. Christmas is a public holiday in many countries around the world. Moreover, it is celebrated by a majority of Christians as well as by many non-Christians. The traditional Christmas narrative states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was soon born. The news of the newborn baby was proclaimed to shepherds through angels and then they further scattered the information.
The actual month and date of the birth of Jesus are unknown. But, the church in the early fourth century fixed the date as December 25 which corresponds to the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. Most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar which has been adopted in almost all countries throughout the world. However, part of the Eastern Christian Churches celebrates Christmas on December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. Christians believe that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity rather than knowing Jesus' exact birth date. Thus, it is considered to be the primary purpose for the celebration of Christmas.
The modern celebratory customs of Christmas include gift-giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, viewing a Nativity play, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations that include Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition to this, several closely related figures such as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season.
The gospels of Luke and Matthew describe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary. In Luke, Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and Jesus is born there. Thereafter, Angels proclaimed him a savior for all people, and shepherds came to adore him. Although no date is indicated in the gospels, early Christians connected Jesus to the Sun through the phrases like Sun of righteousness. The Romans marked the winter solstice on December 25 and the first recorded Christmas celebration was celebrated in Rome on December 25, AD 336. In the 3rd century, the date of the nativity was the subject of great interest.
Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of the Christmas celebration. It was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar and it was nine months after March 25 which is the date of the vernal equinox. Furthermore, it is a date linked to the conception of Jesus which is celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. Christmas played a role in the Arian controversy of the fourth century. After this controversy ran its course, the influence of the holiday declined for a few centuries. Then, the feast regained its prominence after 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day.
In Puritan England, Christmas was banned as it was associated with drunkenness and other misbehavior. Thereafter, it was restored as a legal holiday in England in 1660 but remained disreputable in the minds of many people. In the early 19th century, Christmas festivities and services became widespread with the rise of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England that emphasized the centrality of Christmas in Christianity and charity to the poor. Along with this, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and other authors emphasized family, children, kind-heartedness, gift-giving, and Santa Claus or Father Christmas with Christmas celebrations.
Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in various countries around the world. This festival is also celebrated by many countries whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In countries such as Japan Christmas is popular despite the small number of Christians. They have adopted many aspects of Christmas such as gift-giving, decorations, and Christmas trees. The custom celebration of Christmas include various aspects, namely
On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, a great number of Christians attend a church service plays which is an important part in the recognition of the Christmas season. In the United Kingdom, the Church of England reported an estimated attendance of 2.5 million people at Christmas services in 2015.
Decorations are also an important part of Christmas celebrations. People decorate churches, homes, as well as offices on the occasion of Christmas. The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red, green, and gold. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion. Green symbolizes eternal life and in particular the evergreen tree which does not lose its leaves in the winter. And, gold is the first color associated with Christmas and considered as one of the three gifts of the Magi that symbolize royalty. Apart from this, decorating a Christmas tree is also an important part of Christmas decorations.
For the Christian celebration of Christmas, the viewing of the Nativity play is one of the oldest Christmas Time traditions. The first reenactment of the Nativity of Jesus taking place in A.D. 1223. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services often came to feature Nativity plays. Moreover, Nativity plays are also reenacted in schools and theatres.
A special Christmas family meal is also a traditional part of the celebration. The food that is served on that family meal varies greatly from country to country. Some regions have special meals for Christmas Eve such as Sicily in which 12 kinds of fish are served. In the United Kingdom and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey, goose or other large bird, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread, and cider. Special desserts are also prepared such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, Christmas cake, Panettone, and Yule log cake. Traditional Christmas meal in Central Europe is fried carp or other fish.
Christmas cards are greatly exchanged between friends and family members during the occasion of Christmas. People send Christmas greeting cards to their loved ones on Christmas and wish them through some messages as well as quotes.
The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration. On Christmas eve or Christmas Day, people exchange gifts with their family and friends. Moreover, some people even distribute gifts among the orphans and poor. Furthermore, there is a saying that on the day of Christmas Santa Claus or Father Christmas came to give gifts to children. Thus, many children eagerly wait for the following day to check for the gifts from Santa.