History of Christmas

Since I’m not an encyclopedia you won’t find every historical detail covered . . . not even close.  My simple goal was to share a broad summary of how the recognition and celebration of Christmas has evolved over the centuries.

The history of Christmas and its origins is long but also rather vague.  Many facts have been lost over the centuries.  Much of what remains are “educated guesses” and legends.  Still it’s quite fascinating.

And I recommend you also read the Traditions section.  There you’ll find more history on Christmas as I cover the origin of several popular traditions and how they evolved over time.  The traditions and history of Christmas are inseparable.

Also, I didn’t try to capture the history of every country.  Because we’re located in America the preference throughout the site is to my native country – the United States of America.

Definition of Christmas

The word “Christmas” (definition varies slightly from dictionary to dictionary), is derived from Cristes mæsse or cristmasse, Christ Mass.  It is a day when Christians celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s a major holiday for Christian religions around the world.  And in the U.S. it was declared a Federal holiday in 1870, by President Ulysses S. Grant.  The strict definition of the Christmas season is December 25 through January 6, or possibly one week longer – it varies a bit among the faiths – ending on the day of the baptism of Jesus.  The Christmas season is preceded by the season of Advent in many Christian churches.

January 6 is the day the Magi – or Three Wise Men – arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn King, Jesus.  It is also known as the Epiphany.  And advent comes from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming.” It is the period of preparation for the birth of our Lord which begins four Sundays before Christmas.

How the Date was Chosen

December 25th isn’t believed to literally be the day Jesus was born.  It’s possible this date was chosen because of several festivals that already occurred around this time of year.  Early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter.  Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.  Winter festivals come from several different European countries.

In fact, the end of December was an ideal time for celebration.  It was then that most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter.  This was the only time of year when many people had a supply of fresh meat.  And best of all for some was the fact that most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

Treasures from me to you.  Celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas
and create more of your own memorable history:
Classic Christmas stories for hours of reading pleasure. Plus recipes
and crafts
from days gone by along with more fun and games.

Numerous scholars gave reasons for the 25th of December.  For example, Isaac Newton proposed that December 25th was when the winter solstice was recognized in ancient times.  It is also the date of the Roman solar holiday, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.

The Roman holiday recognized the day that the Sun reversed its southward retreat and proved itself to be “unconquered.”  More than one early scholar declared it “fitting” that Jesus too is unconquered as is the Sun.  Or that the Sun’s rebirth is appropriately connected to the birth of Christ.

We could go on and on.  The simple fact is that in the fourth century church leaders decided to officially recognize and honor the birth of Jesus – first called the Feast of the Nativity.  Pope Julius I chose December 25th and that’s when it has remained throughout the centuries . . . and around the world.

It spread to Egypt by the first part of the fifth century; to England by the end of the sixth; and all the way to Scandinavia by the end of the eighth century.

Click Here to read the rest of the history.  Starting with the time Christmas entered the Dark Ages and was “outlawed.”

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