Christmas was traditionally a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus, but in the early 20th century, it also became a secular family holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians alike. The secular holiday is often devoid of Christian elements, with the mythical figure Santa Claus playing the pivotal role.
WHEN IS CHRISTMAS CELEBRATED?
Christmas is celebrated by many Christians on December 25. For Eastern Orthodox churches that continue to use the Julian calendar for liturgical observances, this date corresponds to January 7 on the Gregorian calendar. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve in most European countries and on Christmas morning in North America.
The precise origin of assigning December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is unclear. The New Testament provides no clues in this regard. December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 and later became the universally accepted date. One widespread explanation of the origin of this date is that December 25 was the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered sun”), a popular holiday in the Roman Empire that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, the casting away of winter and the heralding of the rebirth of spring and summer. Indeed, after December 25 had become widely accepted as the date of Jesus’ birth, Christian writers frequently made the connection between the rebirth of the sun and the birth of the Son. This lead to the next sub topic:
Does Christmas have pagan roots?
In polytheistic Rome, December 25 was a celebration of the Unconquered Sun, marking the return of longer days. It followed Saturnalia, a festival where people feasted and exchanged gifts. The church in Rome began celebrating Christmas on December 25 during the reign of constantine, the first Christian emperor, possibly to weaken pagan traditions.
Much of the world has been taught that the holiday marks the birth of the Christian savior, Jesus Christ, but that’s simply wrong. … The two most notable pagan winter holidays were Germanic Yule and Roman Saturnalia. Christian missionaries gave these holidays a makeover and they are now known to us as Christmas.