Christmas

Christmas

Overview
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday
Holiday
A Holiday is a day designated as having special significance for which individuals, a government, or a religious group have deemed that observance is warranted. It is generally an official or unofficial observance of religious, national, or cultural significance, often accompanied by celebrations...

 generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world
Christmas worldwide
The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and/or the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the...

. It is a Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 feast that commemorates the birth
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

, liturgically
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 closing the Advent
Advent
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi...

 season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days
Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day . This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which...

. In much of the world's nations Christmas is a civil holiday
Public holiday
A public holiday, national holiday or legal holiday is a holiday generally established by law and is usually a non-working day during the year....

, is celebrated by an increasing amount of non-Christians, and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season.

The precise day of Jesus’ birth, which historians place between 7 and 2 BC, is unknown.
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Quotations

A Christmas Blessing During this Christmas season: May you be blessed With the spirit of the season, which is peace, The gladness of the season, which is hope, And the heart of the season, which is love.

Jesus, the Light of the World, as we celebrate your birth ... may we begin to see the world in the light of understanding you give us.

A Christmas shopper's complaint is one of long-standing.

A goose never voted for an early Christmas.

Irish Saying

A white Christmas fills the churchyard.

French Proverb

About all you can do is dream of a white Christmas, for it seems like it always leaves most of us in the red.

Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First: "What do you want to give to others for Christmas?" Second: "What do you want for Christmas?" The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first.

Christmas began in the heart of God. It is complete only when it reaches the heart of man.

Christmas is a race to see which gives out first — your money or your feet.

Encyclopedia
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday
Holiday
A Holiday is a day designated as having special significance for which individuals, a government, or a religious group have deemed that observance is warranted. It is generally an official or unofficial observance of religious, national, or cultural significance, often accompanied by celebrations...

 generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world
Christmas worldwide
The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and/or the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the...

. It is a Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 feast that commemorates the birth
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

, liturgically
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 closing the Advent
Advent
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi...

 season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days
Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day . This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which...

. In much of the world's nations Christmas is a civil holiday
Public holiday
A public holiday, national holiday or legal holiday is a holiday generally established by law and is usually a non-working day during the year....

, is celebrated by an increasing amount of non-Christians, and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season.

The precise day of Jesus’ birth, which historians place between 7 and 2 BC, is unknown. In the early-to-mid 4th century, the Western
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

 Christian Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

 first placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted also in the East. Theories advanced to explain that choice include that it falls nine months after the Christian celebration of the conception of Jesus
Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

, that it was the date of the Roman
Roman calendar
The Roman calendar changed its form several times in the time between the founding of Rome and the fall of the Roman Empire. This article generally discusses the early Roman or pre-Julian calendars...

 winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, or of some ancient winter festival.
Tighe, William J., "Calculating Christmas". Archived 2009-10-31.

The original date of the celebration in Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

 was January 6 (see Epiphany), and that is still the date of the celebration in Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

, where it is a public holiday
Public holidays in Armenia
Holidays in Armenia:HolidaysDateEnglish NameLocal NameTransliterationRemarks1 JanuaryNew Year DayԱմանորAmanorTradition6 JanuaryChristmas DayՍուրբ ԾնունդSurb TsnundReligious...

, and for the Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest National Church, is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, and is one of the most ancient Christian communities. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD, in establishing this church...

. As of , there is a difference of 13 days between the Julian calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

 and the more generally used Gregorian calendar
Gregorian calendar
The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western calendar, or Christian calendar, is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582, a papal bull known by its opening words Inter...

. Those who use the Julian calendar or its equivalents thus celebrate December 25 and January 6 on what for the majority of people is January 7 and January 19. For this reason, Ethiopia celebrates Christmas, both as a Christian feast and as a public holiday on what in the Gregorian Calendar is January 7.

Many of the popular celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have pre-Christian
Pre-Christian
Pre-Christian may mean:*before Christianization**historical polytheism *BC**Classical Antiquity**Iron Age...

 or secular
Secularity
Secularity is the state of being separate from religion.For instance, eating and bathing may be regarded as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them...

 themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving
Gift economy
In the social sciences, a gift economy is a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards . Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community...

, music
Christmas music
Christmas music comprises a variety of genres of music normally performed or heard around the Christmas season, which tends to begin in the months leading up the actual holiday and end in the weeks shortly thereafter.-Early:...

, an exchange of Christmas card
Christmas card
A Christmas card is a greeting card sent as part of the traditional celebration of Christmas in order to convey between people a range of sentiments related to the Christmas and holiday season. Christmas cards are usually exchanged during the weeks preceding Christmas Day by many people in Western...

s, church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

 celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas tree
Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree, real or artificial, and a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas started in Livonia and Germany in the 16th century...

s, lights, garland
Garland
A garland is a class of decoration, of which there are many types.Garland may also refer to:-Places:*Garland, Arkansas, a town in Miller County*Garland County, Arkansas*Garland, Maine, a town in Penobscot County...

s, mistletoe
Mistletoe
Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several families in the order Santalales. The plants in question grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.-Mistletoe in the genus Viscum:...

, nativity scene
Nativity scene
A nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche, or crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke...

s, and holly. In addition, several figures, known as Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas , also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra . Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker...

, Father Christmas
Father Christmas
Father Christmas is the name used in many English-speaking countries for a figure associated with Christmas. A similar figure with the same name exists in several other countries, including France , Spain , Brazil , Portugal , Italy , Armenia , India...

, and Santa Claus
Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a folklore figure in various cultures who distributes gifts to children, normally on Christmas Eve. Each name is a variation of Saint Nicholas, but refers to Santa Claus...

, among other names, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Etymology


The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

's Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

". It is derived from the Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 Christemasse and Old English
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

 Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 Χριστός Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

).

Celebration


Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public
Public
In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individuals, and the public is the totality of such groupings. This is a different concept to the sociological concept of the Öffentlichkeit or public sphere. The concept of a public has also been defined in political science,...

 holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In some non-Christian countries, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

); in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Countries such as Japan and Korea, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations and Christmas trees.

Notable countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, (excepting Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 and Macao
Mação
Mação is a municipality in Portugal with a total area of 400.0 km² and a total population of 7,763 inhabitants.The municipality is composed of eight parishes, and is located in the Santarém District....

), Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

, Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

, Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

, Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

. Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions.

Among countries with a strong Christian tradition, a variety of Christmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures. For Christians, participating in a religious service plays an important part in the recognition of the season. Christmas, along with Easter, is the period of highest annual church attendance.

In Catholic countries, the people hold religious processions or parade
Parade
A parade is a procession of people, usually organized along a street, often in costume, and often accompanied by marching bands, floats or sometimes large balloons. Parades are held for a wide range of reasons, but are usually celebrations of some kind...

s in the days preceding Christmas. In other countries, secular processions or parades featuring Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held. Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season. Gift giving takes place on Christmas Day in most countries. Others practice gift giving on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day, and January 6, Epiphany.

Date of celebration


For centuries, Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born. John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 preached a sermon in Antioch c. 386 which established the date of Christmas as December 25 on the Julian calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

 since the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26) had been announced during the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist (Luke 1:10-13) as dated from the duties Zacharias performed on the Day of Atonement
Day of Atonement
Day of Atonement may refer to:*Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement* Day of Atonement , a national day established in 1995 by the Nation of Islam...

 during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar
Hebrew calendar
The Hebrew calendar , or Jewish calendar, is a lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances. It determines the dates for Jewish holidays and the appropriate public reading of Torah portions, yahrzeits , and daily Psalm reading, among many ceremonial uses...

 Ethanim or Tishri (Lev. 16:29, 1 Kings 8:2) which falls in September–October.

In the early 18th century, scholars began proposing alternative explanations. Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, which the Romans called bruma and celebrated on December 25.Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, Natural History, 18:59 In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. In 1889, Louis Duchesne
Louis Duchesne
Louis Marie Olivier Duchesne was a French priest, philologist, teacher and a critical historian of Christianity and Roman Catholic liturgy and institutions....

 proposed that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after the Annunciation
Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus, which itself was based on a traditional belief that he was conceived and crucified on the same date, 15 Nisan
Nisan
Nisan is the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month of the civil year, on the Hebrew calendar. The name of the month is Babylonian; in the Torah it is called the month of the Aviv, referring to the month in which barley was ripe. It is a spring month of 30 days...

.Duchesne, Louis, Les Origines du Culte Chrétien, Paris, 1902, 262 ff.

In the early 4th century, the church calendar contained Christmas on December 25 and other holidays placed on solar dates: "It is cosmic symbolism...which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas," according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans.

However, today, whether or not the birth date of Jesus is on December 25 is not considered to be an important issue among mainstream Christian denominations; rather, celebrating the coming of God into the world in the form of man
Incarnation (Christianity)
The Incarnation in traditional Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity, also known as God the Son or the Logos , "became flesh" by being conceived in the womb of a woman, the Virgin Mary, also known as the Theotokos .The Incarnation is a fundamental theological...

 to atone for the sin
Sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

s of humanity is considered to be the primary meaning of Christmas.

Using the Julian calendar


Eastern Orthodox national churches, including those of Russia
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

, Georgia, Ukraine
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church may refer to:*Ukrainian Orthodox Church , established in 1990*Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, established in 1992*Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, established in 1921...

, Macedonia
Macedonian Orthodox Church
The Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric or just Macedonian Orthodox Church is the body of Christians who are united under the Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, exercising jurisdiction over Macedonian Orthodox Christians in the Republic of Macedonia and in exarchates in the Macedonian...

, Montenegro
Montenegro
Montenegro Montenegrin: Crna Gora Црна Гора , meaning "Black Mountain") is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast and Albania to the...

, Serbia
Serbian Orthodox Church
The Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the autocephalous Orthodox Christian churches, ranking sixth in order of seniority after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Russia...

 and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is the head bishop of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, ranking fourth of nine Patriarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since 2005, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has been Theophilos III...

 mark feasts using the older Julian calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

. December 25 on the Julian calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the internationally-used Gregorian calendar
Gregorian calendar
The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western calendar, or Christian calendar, is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582, a papal bull known by its opening words Inter...

. However, other Orthodox Christians, such as the churches of Greece
Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Church is the body of several churches within the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity sharing a common cultural tradition whose liturgy is also traditionally conducted in Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament...

, Romania
Romanian Orthodox Church
The Romanian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox church. It is in full communion with other Eastern Orthodox churches, and is ranked seventh in order of precedence. The Primate of the church has the title of Patriarch...

, Antioch
Antiochian Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, also known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and the Antiochian Orthodox Church , is an autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church within the wider communion of Orthodox Christianity...

, Alexandria, Albania
Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania
The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania is one of the newest autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. It declared its autocephaly in 1922, and gained recognition from the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1937....

, Finland and the Orthodox Church in America
Orthodox Church in America
The Orthodox Church in America is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox church in North America. Its primate is Metropolitan Jonah , who was elected on November 12, 2008, and was formally installed on December 28, 2008...

, among others, began using the Revised Julian calendar
Revised Julian calendar
The Revised Julian calendar, also known as the Rectified Julian calendar, or, less formally, New calendar, is a calendar, originated in 1923, which effectively discontinued the 340 years of divergence between the naming of dates sanctioned by those Eastern Orthodox churches adopting it and the...

 in the early 20th century, which corresponds exactly to the Gregorian calendar.

These Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on the same day as Western Christianity
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

. Oriental Orthodox churches also use their own calendars, which are generally similar to the Julian calendar. The Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest National Church, is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, and is one of the most ancient Christian communities. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD, in establishing this church...

 celebrates the nativity in combination with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Armenian churches customarily use the Gregorian calendar, but some use the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Christmas Day on January 19, and Christmas Eve on January 18 (according to the Gregorian calendar).

Commemorating Jesus’ birth



Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary as a fulfillment of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

's Messianic prophecy. The Bible contains two accounts which describe the events surrounding Jesus' birth. Depending on one's perspective, these accounts either differ from each other or tell two versions of the same story
These biblical accounts
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 are found in the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

, namely Matthew 1:18, and the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, specifically Luke 1:26 and 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph
Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph is a figure in the Gospels, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ ....

, in the city of Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

.

According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, though neither the stable nor the animals are specifically mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a manger
Manger
A manger is a trough or box of carved stone or wood construction used to hold food for animals . Mangers are mostly used in livestock raising. They are also used to feed wild animals, e.g., in nature reserves...

 is mentioned in , where it states, "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Early icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

ographic representations of the nativity placed the animals and manger within a cave (located, according to tradition, under the Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians...

 in Bethlehem). Shepherds from the fields
Adoration of the shepherds
The Adoration of the shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is often combined with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title...

 surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

, and were the first to see the child.

The Gospel of Matthew also describes a visit by several Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

, or astrologers, who bring gifts of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, frankincense
Frankincense
Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

, and myrrh
Myrrh
Myrrh is the aromatic oleoresin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which grow in dry, stony soil. An oleoresin is a natural blend of an essential oil and a resin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum....

 to the infant Jesus. The visitors were said to be following a mysterious star, commonly known as the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

, believing it to announce the birth of a king of the Jews. The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6, is the formal end of the Christmas season in some churches.
Christians celebrate Christmas in various ways. In addition to this day being one of the most important and popular for the attendance of church services, there are other devotions and popular traditions. In some Christian denominations, children re-enact the events of the Nativity with animals to portray the event with more realism or sing carols that reference the event. Some Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity, known as a Nativity scene
Nativity scene
A nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche, or crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke...

 or crèche, in their homes, using figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Prior to Christmas Day, the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 practices the 40-day Nativity Fast
Nativity Fast
The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, . The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is...

 in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of Western Christianity
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

 celebrates four weeks of Advent
Advent
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi...

. The final preparations for Christmas are made on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

.

A long artistic tradition has grown of producing painted depictions of the nativity in art
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

. Nativity scenes are traditionally set in a barn or stable and include Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, angels, shepherds and the Three Wise Men
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

: Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, who are said to have followed a star, known as the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

, and arrived after his birth.

Decorations


The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter. Decorating with greenery was also part of Jewish tradition :
"Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. " (Leviticus 23:40)

Christians incorporated such customs in their developing practices. In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green". The heart-shaped leaves of ivy
Ivy
Ivy, plural ivies is a genus of 12–15 species of evergreen climbing or ground-creeping woody plants in the family Araliaceae, native to western, central and southern Europe, Macaronesia, northwestern Africa and across central-southern Asia east to Japan and Taiwan.-Description:On level ground they...

 were said to symbolize the coming to earth of Jesus, while holly
Holly
Ilex) is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones world wide....

 was seen as protection against pagans and witches, its thorns and red berries held to represent the Crown of Thorns
Crown of Thorns
In Christianity, the Crown of Thorns, one of the instruments of the Passion, was woven of thorn branches and placed on Jesus Christ before his crucifixion...

 worn by Jesus at the crucifixion and the blood he shed.
Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome. They were popularised by Saint Francis of Asissi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe. Different types of decorations developed across the Christian world, dependent on local tradition and available resources. The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children. In countries where a representation of the Nativity Scene
Nativity scene
A nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche, or crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke...

 is very popular, people are encouraged to compete and create the most original or realistic ones. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom
Heirloom
In popular usage, an heirloom is something, perhaps an antique or some kind of jewelry, that has been passed down for generations through family members....

.

The traditional colors of Christmas are green
Green
Green is a color, the perception of which is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 520–570 nanometres. In the subtractive color system, it is not a primary color, but is created out of a mixture of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan; it is considered...

 and red
Red
Red is any of a number of similar colors evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye, in the wavelength range of roughly 630–740 nm. Longer wavelengths than this are called infrared , and cannot be seen by the naked eye...

. White, silver
Silver (color)
Silver is the metallic shade resembling gray, closest to that of polished silver.The visual sensation usually associated with the metal silver is its metallic shine. This cannot be reproduced by a simple solid color, because the shiny effect is due to the material's brightness varying with the...

 and gold
Gold (color)
Gold, also called golden, is one of a variety of orange-yellow color blends used to give the impression of the color of the element gold....

 are also popular. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter.

The Christmas tree
Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree, real or artificial, and a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas started in Livonia and Germany in the 16th century...

 is considered by some as Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, which included the use of evergreen
Evergreen
In botany, an evergreen plant is a plant that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs...

 boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship
Tree worship
Tree worship refers to the tendency of many societies throughout history to worship or otherwise mythologize trees. Trees have played an important role in many of the world's mythologies and religions, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages...

. The English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 began the tradition in the 16th century.

From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia
Poinsettia
Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly known as Zack Wood or noche buena, is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico and Central America. The name "poinsettia" is after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1825...

, a native plant from Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe
Mistletoe
Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several families in the order Santalales. The plants in question grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.-Mistletoe in the genus Viscum:...

, red amaryllis
Amaryllis
Amaryllis is a small genus of flowering bulbs, with two species. The better known of the two, Amaryllis belladonna, is a native of South Africa, particularly the rocky southwest region near the Cape...

, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands
Garland (decoration)
A garland is a decorative wreath or cord, used at festive occasions, which can be hung round a person's neck, or on inanimate objects like Christmas trees. Originally garlands were made of flowers or leaves.-Etymology:...

 and evergreen
Evergreen
In botany, an evergreen plant is a plant that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs...

 foliage. The display of Christmas village
Christmas village
A Christmas village is a decorative, miniature-scale village often set up during the Christmas season. These villages are rooted in the elaborate Christmas traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch...

s has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs
Sled
A sled, sledge, or sleigh is a land vehicle with a smooth underside or possessing a separate body supported by two or more smooth, relatively narrow, longitudinal runners that travels by sliding across a surface. Most sleds are used on surfaces with low friction, such as snow or ice. In some cases,...

, snowmen, and other Christmas figures.

Other traditional decorations include bells
Bell (instrument)
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...

, candles, candy canes, stockings
Christmas stocking
A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that children hang on Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives. These small items are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers...

, wreaths, and angels. Both the displaying of wreath
Wreath
A wreath is an assortment of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs and/or various materials that is constructed to resemble a ring. They are used typically as Christmas decorations to symbolize the coming of Christ, also known as the Advent season in Christianity. They are also used as festive headdresses...

s and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen
Evergreen
In botany, an evergreen plant is a plant that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs...

, make up Christmas wreath
Wreath
A wreath is an assortment of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs and/or various materials that is constructed to resemble a ring. They are used typically as Christmas decorations to symbolize the coming of Christ, also known as the Advent season in Christianity. They are also used as festive headdresses...

s and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world. Both of these antiquated, more subdued, Christmas displays are seen in the image to the right of Saint Anselm College
Saint Anselm College
Saint Anselm College is a nationally ranked, private, Benedictine, Catholic liberal arts college in Goffstown, New Hampshire. Founded in 1889 by Abbot Hilary Pfrängle, O.S.B. of Saint Mary's Abbey in Newark, New Jersey, at the request of Bishop Denis M. Bradley of Manchester, New Hampshire, the...

.

Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places. It is common in many parts of the world for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.

In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night (holiday)
Twelfth Night is a festival in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas.It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the...

, the evening of January 5.

Music and carols


The first specifically Christmas hymns that we know of appear in 4th century Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

. Latin hymns such as Veni redemptor gentium, written by Ambrose
Ambrose
Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as Saint Ambrose , was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was one of the four original doctors of the Church.-Political career:Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family between about...

, Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

. Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten) by the Spanish poet Prudentius
Prudentius
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis in 348. He probably died in Spain, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413...

 (d. 413) is still sung in some churches today.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Christmas "Sequence" or "Prose" was introduced in North European monasteries, developing under Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order.After the death of his mother, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. Three years later, he was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val...

 into a sequence of rhymed stanza
Stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s. In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

.

By the 13th century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence of Francis of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay
John Audelay
John Audelay or Awdelay was a priest and poet from Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire; he is one of the few English poets of the period whose name is known to us. Some of the first Christmas carols recorded in English appear among his works....

, a Shropshire
Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

 chaplain, who lists twenty-five "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of wassailers
Wassailing
The tradition of Wassailing falls into two distinct categories: The House-Visiting wassail and the Orchard-Visiting wassail. House-Visiting wassail, very much similar to caroling, is the practice of people going door-to-door singing Christmas carols...

, who went from house to house.

The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal folk songs sung during celebrations such as "harvest tide" as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church. Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like "Personent hodie
Personent hodie
Personent hodie is a Christmas carol originally published in the 1582 Finnish song book Piae Cantiones, a volume of 74 Medieval songs with Latin texts collected by Jaakko Suomalainen, a Swedish Lutheran cleric, and published by T.P. Rutha...

"
, "Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas
"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king's footprints, step for step,...

", and "The Holly and the Ivy
The Holly and the Ivy
"The Holly and the Ivy" is an English traditional Christmas carol. The carol contains intermingled Christian and Pagan imagery, with holly and ivy representing Pagan fertility symbols. Holly and ivy have been the mainstay of Christmas decoration for church use since at least the fifteenth and...

" can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Adeste Fidelis (O Come all ye faithful) appears in its current form in the mid-18th century, although the words may have originated in the 13th century.
Singing of carols initially suffered a decline in popularity after the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 in northern Europe, although some Reformers, like Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship. Carols largely survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in popular songs in the 19th century. The 18th century English reformer Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley , and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley...

 understood the importance of music to worship. In addition to setting many psalms to melodies, which were influential in the Great Awakening
Great Awakening
The term Great Awakening is used to refer to a period of religious revival in American religious history. Historians and theologians identify three or four waves of increased religious enthusiasm occurring between the early 18th century and the late 19th century...

 in the United States, he wrote texts for at least three Christmas carols. The best known was originally entitled "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings", later renamed "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. This is not the version widely known today. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the...

".

Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

 wrote a melody adapted to fit Wesley's words. In Austria in 1818 Mohr and Gruber made a major addition to the genre when they composed "Silent Night
Silent Night
"Silent Night" is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" were written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber...

" for the St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf. William B. Sandys
William B. Sandys
William B. Sandys , was an English solicitor, member of the Percy Society, fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and remembered for his publication Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern , a collection of seasonal carols that Sandys had gathered and also apparently improvised...

' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) contained the first appearance in print of many now-classic English carols, and contributed to the mid-Victorian revival of the festival.

Completely secular Christmas seasonal songs emerged in the late 18th century. "Deck The Halls" dates from 1784, and the American, "Jingle Bells
Jingle Bells
"Jingle Bells" is one of the best-known and commonly sung winter songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in the autumn of 1857...

" was copyrighted in 1857. In the 19th and 20th century, African American spirituals and songs about Christmas, based in their tradition of spirituals, became more widely known. An increasing number of seasonal holidays songs were commercially produced in the 20th century, including jazz and blues variations. In addition, there was a revival of interest in early music, from groups singing folk music, such as The Revels, to performers of early medieval and classical music.

Food




A special Christmas family meal
Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner is the primary meal traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In many ways the meal is similar to a standard Sunday dinner. Christmas feasts have traditionally been luxurious and abundant...

 is traditionally an important part of the holiday's celebration, and the food that is served varies greatly from country to country. Some regions, such as Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, have special meals for Christmas Eve, when 12 kinds of fish are served. In England and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey or goose, meat, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider. Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding is a pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day . It has its origins in medieval England, and is sometimes known as plum pudding or plum duff, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving dried fruit.-Basics:Many households have their own recipe for...

, mince pie
Mince pie
A mince pie, also known as minced pie, is a small British sweet pie traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.The early mince...

s and fruit cake.

In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish often is used for the traditional main course, but richer meat such as lamb is increasingly served. In Germany, France and Austria, goose and pork are favored. Beef, ham and chicken in various recipes are popular throughout the world. The Maltese
Maltese people
The Maltese are an ethnic group indigenous to the Southern European nation of Malta, and identified with the Maltese language. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea...

 traditionally serve Imbuljuta tal-Qastan
Imbuljuta tal-Qastan
Imbuljuta tal-Qastan is a traditional Maltese drink served after Midnight Mass and on New Year's Eve. It is made using cocoa, chestnuts, cloves and citrus zest.- External links :* *...

, a chocolate and chestnuts beverage, after Midnight Mass
Midnight Mass
Midnight Mass is a Christmas Eve liturgical tradition in the Roman Catholic church.Midnight Mass may also refer to:* Midnight, Mass., a Vertigo comics series* Midnight Mass, a 2004 novel by F...

 and throughout the Christmas season. Slovaks prepare the traditional Christmas bread potica, bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël is a traditional dessert served near Christmas in France, Belgium, Canada, Lebanon, Vietnam, and several other francophone countries and former French colonies...

in France, panettone
Panettone
thumb|200px|right|A non-traditionally shaped panettone loaf.Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan , usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, Malta, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan. Maltese nationals are...

in Italy, and elaborate tarts and cakes. The eating of sweets and chocolates has become popular worldwide, and sweeter Christmas delicacies include the German stollen
Stollen
A Stollen is a loaf-shaped cake containing dried fruit, and covered with sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when called...

, marzipan
Marzipan
Marzipan is a confection consisting primarily of sugar and almond meal. Persipan is a similar, yet less expensive product, in which the almonds are replaced by apricot or peach kernels...

 cake or candy, and Jamaican rum fruit cake. As one of the few fruits traditionally available to northern countries in winter, oranges have been long associated with special Christmas foods.

Cards


Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding Christmas Day. The traditional greeting reads "wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", much like that of the first commercial Christmas card, produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The custom of sending them has become popular among a wide cross-section of people with the emergence of the modern trend towards exchanging E-card
E-card
An e-card is similar to a postcard or greeting card, with the primary difference being that it is created using digital media instead of paper or other traditional materials. E-cards are made available by publishers usually on various Internet sites, where they can be sent to a recipient, usually...

s.

Christmas cards are purchased in considerable quantities, and feature artwork, commercially designed and relevant to the season. The content of the design might relate directly to the Christmas narrative
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 with depictions of the Nativity of Jesus
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

, or Christian symbols such as the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

, or a white dove
Dove
Pigeons and doves constitute the bird family Columbidae within the order Columbiformes, which include some 300 species of near passerines. In general terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably...

 which can represent both the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 and Peace
Peace
Peace is a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the...

 on Earth. Other Christmas cards are more secular and can depict Christmas traditions, mythical figures such as Santa Claus
Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a folklore figure in various cultures who distributes gifts to children, normally on Christmas Eve. Each name is a variation of Saint Nicholas, but refers to Santa Claus...

, objects directly associated with Christmas such as candles, holly and baubles, or a variety of images associated with the season, such as Christmastime activities, snow scenes and the wildlife of the northern winter. There are even humorous cards and genres depicting nostalgic scenes of the past such as crinoline
Crinoline
Crinoline was originally a stiff fabric with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread. The fabric first appeared around 1830, but by 1850 the word had come to mean a stiffened petticoat or rigid skirt-shaped structure of steel designed to support the skirts of a woman’s dress into...

d shoppers in idealized 19th century streetscapes.

Some prefer cards with a poem, prayer or Biblical verse; while others distance themselves from religion with an all-inclusive "Season's greetings".

Stamps



A number of nations have issued commemorative stamp
Commemorative stamp
A commemorative stamp is a postage stamp, often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, event or person. The subject of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print, unlike definitive stamps which normally depict the subject along with the...

s at Christmastime. Postal customers will often use these stamps to mail Christmas card
Christmas card
A Christmas card is a greeting card sent as part of the traditional celebration of Christmas in order to convey between people a range of sentiments related to the Christmas and holiday season. Christmas cards are usually exchanged during the weeks preceding Christmas Day by many people in Western...

s, and they are popular with philatelists
Philately
Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...

. These stamps are regular postage stamps, unlike Christmas seal
Christmas Seal
Christmas Seals are labels placed on mail during the Christmas season to raise funds and awareness for charitable programs.They have become particularly associated with lung diseases such as tuberculosis, and with child welfare...

s, and are valid for postage year-round. They usually go on sale some time between early October and early December, and are printed in considerable quantities.

In 1898 a Canadian stamp was issued to mark the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate. The stamp features a map of the globe and bears an inscription "XMAS 1898" at the bottom. In 1937, Austria issued two "Christmas greeting stamps" featuring a rose
Rose
A rose is a woody perennial of the genus Rosa, within the family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers are large and showy, in colours ranging from white through yellows...

 and the signs of the zodiac
Zodiac
In astronomy, the zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude which are centred upon the ecliptic: the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year...

. In 1939, Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 issued four semi-postal stamps with designs featuring the three kings and a star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

, an angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

 and child, the Southern Cross and a child, and a mother and child.

Both the US Postal Service and the Royal Mail
Royal Mail
Royal Mail is the government-owned postal service in the United Kingdom. Royal Mail Holdings plc owns Royal Mail Group Limited, which in turn operates the brands Royal Mail and Parcelforce Worldwide...

 regularly issue Christmas-themed stamps each year.

Gift giving



The exchanging of gift
Gift
A gift or a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. In many human societies, the act of mutually exchanging money, goods, etc. may contribute to...

s is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making the Christmas season the most profitable time of year for retail
Retail
Retail consists of the sale of physical goods or merchandise from a fixed location, such as a department store, boutique or kiosk, or by mail, in small or individual lots for direct consumption by the purchaser. Retailing may include subordinated services, such as delivery. Purchasers may be...

ers and businesses throughout the world. Gift giving was common in the Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 celebration of Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

, an ancient festival which took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. Christmas gift giving was banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 due to its suspected pagan origins. It was later rationalized by the Church on the basis that it associated St. Nicholas with Christmas, and that gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

.

Legendary gift-bringing figures



A number of figures of both Christian and mythical origin have been associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. Among these are Father Christmas
Father Christmas
Father Christmas is the name used in many English-speaking countries for a figure associated with Christmas. A similar figure with the same name exists in several other countries, including France , Spain , Brazil , Portugal , Italy , Armenia , India...

, also known as Santa Claus
Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a folklore figure in various cultures who distributes gifts to children, normally on Christmas Eve. Each name is a variation of Saint Nicholas, but refers to Santa Claus...

, Père Noël, and the Weihnachtsmann; Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas , also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra . Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker...

 or Sinterklaas
Sinterklaas
Sinterklaas is a traditional Winter holiday figure still celebrated today in the Low Countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as French Flanders and Artois...

; the Christkind
Christkind
Das Christkind is the traditional Christmas gift-bringer in regions of Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, parts of Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of Hispanic America, in certain areas of southern Brazil and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana...

; Kris Kringle; Joulupukki
Joulupukki
Joulupukki is a Finnish Christmas figure. The name Joulupukki literally means Christmas Goat or Yule Goat. The Finnish word "pukki" comes from the Swedish "bock" and is an old Scandinavian tradition...

; Babbo Natale; Saint Basil
Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor . He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian...

; and Father Frost
Ded Moroz
Ded Moroz is a fictional character who in some Slavic cultures plays a role similar to that of Santa Claus. The literal translation of the name would be Grandfather Frost, although the name is often translated as Father Frost....

.

The most famous and pervasive of these figures in modern celebration worldwide is Santa Claus, a mythical gift bringer, dressed in red, whose origins have diverse sources. The name Santa Claus can be traced back to the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means simply Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey, during the 4th century. Among other saintly attributes, he was noted for the care of Children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast on December 6 came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts.

Saint Nicholas traditionally appeared in bishop's attire, accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behaviour of children during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. By the 13th century, Saint Nicholas was well known in the Netherlands, and the practice of gift-giving in his name spread to other parts of central and southern Europe. At the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 in 16th–17th century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, corrupted in English to Kris Kringle, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

The modern popular image of Santa Claus, however, was created in the United States, and in particular in New York. The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors including Washington Irving
Washington Irving
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works...

 and the German-American
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 cartoonist Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist who is considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He was the scourge of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine...

 (1840–1902). Following the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, some of the inhabitants of New York City sought out symbols of the city's non-English past. New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam
New Amsterdam
New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement that served as the capital of New Netherland. It later became New York City....

 and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas.

In 1809, the New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society is an American history museum and library located in New York City at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan. Founded in 1804 as New York's first museum, the New-York Historical Society presents exhibitions, public programs and research that...

 convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam
New Amsterdam
New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement that served as the capital of New Netherland. It later became New York City....

, the Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 name for New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. At his first American appearance in 1810, Santa Claus was drawn in bishops' robes. However as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. Nast drew a new image of "Santa Claus" annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.


Father Christmas, a jolly, well nourished, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character. He is first recorded in early 17th century England, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness
Drunkenness
Alcohol intoxication is a physiological state that occurs when a person has a high level of ethanol in his or her blood....

 rather than the bringing of gifts. In Victorian Britain, his image was remade to match that of Santa. The French Père Noël
Père Noël
Père Noël is a legendary gift-giver during Christmas in France and French-speaking areas, identified with Father Christmas or Santa Claus in English speaking territories....

 evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In Italy, Babbo Natale acts as Santa Claus, while La Befana
La Befana
In the Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus....

 is the bringer of gifts and arrives on the eve of the Epiphany
Epiphany (Christian)
Epiphany, or Theophany, meaning "vision of God",...

. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. Now, she brings gifts to all children. In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht
Knecht Ruprecht
In the folklore of Germany, Knecht Ruprecht, which translates as Farmhand Rupert or Servant Rupert, is a companion of Saint Nicholas. He first appears in written sources in the 17th century, as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession....

, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves
Elf
An elf is a being of Germanic mythology. The elves were originally thought of as a race of divine beings endowed with magical powers, which they use both for the benefit and the injury of mankind...

 make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus
Mrs. Claus
Mrs. Claus is the wife of Santa Claus, the Christmas gift-bringer in North American Christmas tradition.While Santa Claus himself emerged from the 1820s from a number of traditions of European folklore, Mrs...

.

There has been some opposition to the narrative of the American evolution of Saint Nicholas into the modern Santa. It has been claimed that the Saint Nicholas Society was not founded until 1835, almost half a century after the end of the American War of Independence. Moreover, a study of the "children's books, periodicals and journals" of New Amsterdam by Charles Jones revealed no references to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas. However, not all scholars agree with Jones's findings, which he reiterated in a booklength study in 1978; Howard G. Hageman, of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, maintains that the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in New York was alive and well from the early settlement of the Hudson Valley
Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley comprises the valley of the Hudson River and its adjacent communities in New York State, United States, from northern Westchester County northward to the cities of Albany and Troy.-History:...

 on.

Current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 and Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 and the iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

 of Santa Claus imported from the United States.

In South Tyrol
South Tyrol
South Tyrol , also known by its Italian name Alto Adige, is an autonomous province in northern Italy. It is one of the two autonomous provinces that make up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. The province has an area of and a total population of more than 500,000 inhabitants...

 (Italy), Austria, Czech Republic, Southern Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

, Slovakia
Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

 and Switzerland, the Christkind
Christkind
Das Christkind is the traditional Christmas gift-bringer in regions of Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, parts of Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of Hispanic America, in certain areas of southern Brazil and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana...

 (Ježíšek
Ježíšek
Ježíšek is a Christmas gift-giving figure used in the Czech Republic. Similar gift-giving figures also appear in other countries such as Slovakia or Hungary ....

 in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian and Ježiško in Slovak) brings the presents. Greek children get their presents from Saint Basil on New Year's Eve, the eve of that saint's liturgical feast. The German St. Nikolaus is not identical with the Weihnachtsmann (who is the German version of Santa Claus/Father Christmas). St. Nikolaus wears a bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

's dress and still brings small gifts (usually candies, nuts and fruits) on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht
Knecht Ruprecht
In the folklore of Germany, Knecht Ruprecht, which translates as Farmhand Rupert or Servant Rupert, is a companion of Saint Nicholas. He first appears in written sources in the 17th century, as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession....

. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive.

History


The earliest evidence of the celebration on December 25 of a Christian liturgical feast of the birth of Jesus is from the Chronography of 354 AD
Chronography of 354
The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, was a 4th century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus. It is the earliest dated codex to have full page illustrations. None of the original has survived...

. This was in Rome, while in Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

 the birth of Jesus was already celebrated in connection with the Epiphany on January 6. The December 25 celebration was imported into the East later: in Antioch by John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 towards the end of the 4th century, probably in 388, and in Alexandria only in the following century. Even in the West, the January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380.

Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity
Christianization
The historical phenomenon of Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples at once...

. These elements, including the Yule
Yule
Yule or Yuletide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January...

 log
Yule log
A Yule log is a large and extremely hard log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures...

 from Yule and gift giving from Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

, became syncretized
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 into Christmas over the centuries. The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival
Carnival
Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnaval typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party...

-like state in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, to a tamer family-oriented and children-centered theme introduced in a 19th-century reformation. Additionally, the celebration of Christmas was banned on more than one occasion within Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 Christendom
Christendom
Christendom, or the Christian world, has several meanings. In a cultural sense it refers to the worldwide community of Christians, adherents of Christianity...

 due to concerns that it was too pagan or unbiblical.


Dies Natalis Solis Invicti



Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means "the birthday of the unconquered sun".

Modern scholars have argued that the festival was placed on the date of the solstice because this was on this day that the Sun reversed its southward retreat and proved itself to be "unconquered". Some early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus. "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born...Christ should be born", Cyprian
Cyprian
Cyprian was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education...

 wrote. John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 also commented on the connection: "They call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .?"

Although Dies Natalis Solis Invicti has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly speculation,. the only ancient source for it is a single mention in the Chronography of 354
Chronography of 354
The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, was a 4th century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus. It is the earliest dated codex to have full page illustrations. None of the original has survived...

, and modern Sol scholar Steven Hijmans argues that there is no evidence that the celebration precedes that of Christmas: "[W]hile the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas, and none that indicates that Aurelian had a hand in its institution."

Winter festivals



A winter festival was the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included the fact that less agricultural work needs to be done during the winter, as well as an expectation of better weather as spring approached. Modern Christmas customs include: gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; and Yule log
Yule log
A Yule log is a large and extremely hard log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures...

s and various foods from Germanic
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 feasts.

Pagan Scandinavia
Norse paganism
Norse paganism is the religious traditions of the Norsemen, a Germanic people living in the Nordic countries. Norse paganism is therefore a subset of Germanic paganism, which was practiced in the lands inhabited by the Germanic tribes across most of Northern and Central Europe in the Viking Age...

 celebrated a winter festival called Yule
Yule
Yule or Yuletide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January...

, held in the late December to early January period. As Northern Europe
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

 was the last part to Christianize, its pagan traditions had a major influence on Christmas, especially Koleda
Koleda
Kolyada or koleda is an ancient Slavic winter ritual celebrating the Old New Year. It was later incorporated into Christmas. The word is still used in modern Belarusian , Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian and Croatian, Slovak...

, which was incorporated into
the Christmas carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.

Christianity


The New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 does not give a date for the birth of Jesus. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

 wrote that a group in Egypt celebrated the nativity on 25 Pashons
Pashons
Pashons , also known as Bashans, is the ninth month of the Coptic calendar. It lies between May 9 and June 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The month of Pashons is also the first month of the Season of 'Shemu' in Ancient Egypt, where the Egyptians harvest their crops throughout the land of Egypt...

. This corresponds to May 20. Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 (d. 220) does not mention Christmas as a major feast day
Calendar of saints
The calendar of saints is a traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the feast day of said saint...

 in the Church of Roman Africa
African Rite
In the history of Christianity, the African Rite refers to a now defunct Catholic, Western liturgical rite, and is considered a development or possibly a local use of the primitive Roman Rite...

. However, in Chronographai, a reference work published in 221, Sextus Julius Africanus
Sextus Julius Africanus
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian traveller and historian of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. He is important chiefly because of his influence on Eusebius, on all the later writers of Church history among the Fathers, and on the whole Greek school of chroniclers.His name indicates that...

 suggested that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox, popularizing the idea that Christ was born on December 25. The equinox was March 25 on the Roman calendar, so this implied a birth in December.Roll p. 87.

In 245, the theologian Origen of Alexandria stated that, "only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod)" celebrated their birthdays."Natal Day", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911. In 303, Christian writer Arnobius
Arnobius
Arnobius of Sicca was an Early Christian apologist, during the reign of Diocletian . According to Jerome's Chronicle, Arnobius, before his conversion, was a distinguished Numidian rhetorician at Sicca Veneria , a major Christian center in Proconsular Africa, and owed his conversion to a...

 ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods. However, since Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth "as God" but "as man", this is not evidence against Christmas being a feast at this time. Moreover, the fact that the innovation rejecting Donatist
Donatist
Donatism was a Christian sect within the Roman province of Africa that flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries. It had its roots in the social pressures among the long-established Christian community of Roman North Africa , during the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian...

 Church of North Africa celebrated Christmas suggests that the feast had been established before the living memory of those who began that Church in 311.

Feast established


The earliest known reference to the date of the nativity as December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354
Chronography of 354
The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, was a 4th century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus. It is the earliest dated codex to have full page illustrations. None of the original has survived...

, an illuminated manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

 compiled in Rome. In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany
Epiphany (Christian)
Epiphany, or Theophany, meaning "vision of God",...

 (January 6), although this festival emphasized celebration of the baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

.

Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 following the death of the pro-Arian
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 Emperor Valens
Valens
Valens was the Eastern Roman Emperor from 364 to 378. He was given the eastern half of the empire by his brother Valentinian I after the latter's accession to the throne...

 at the Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople
The Battle of Adrianople , sometimes known as the Battle of Hadrianopolis, was fought between a Roman army led by the Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels led by Fritigern...

 in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 in 379, and to Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age...

 resigned as bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

 in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 in about 400.


Middle Ages


In the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in the west focused on the visit of the magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

. But the Medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin" (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours), now known as Advent. In Italy, former Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

n traditions were attached to Advent. Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas
Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day . This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which...

 (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days
Twelve Holy Days
Twelve Holy Days is the holy period from December 26 to January 6 in the Esoteric Christian interpretation of the Christmas season.-Cosmological pattern:...

.

The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr
Edmund the Martyr
St Edmund the Martyr was a king of East Anglia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom which today includes the English counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.D'Evelyn, Charlotte, and Mill, Anna J., , 1956. Reprinted 1967...

 was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England
William I of England
William I , also known as William the Conqueror , was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. He was also Duke of Normandy from 3 July 1035 until his death, under the name William II...

 was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.

By the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnate
Magnate
Magnate, from the Late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities...

s celebrated Christmas. King Richard II
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

 of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

 also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form. "Misrule"—drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling—was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day
New Year's Day
New Year's Day is observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar used in ancient Rome...

, and there was special Christmas ale.

Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy
Ivy
Ivy, plural ivies is a genus of 12–15 species of evergreen climbing or ground-creeping woody plants in the family Araliaceae, native to western, central and southern Europe, Macaronesia, northwestern Africa and across central-southern Asia east to Japan and Taiwan.-Description:On level ground they...

, holly
Holly
Ilex) is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones world wide....

, and other evergreens. Christmas gift-giving during the Middle Ages was usually between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. The annual indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, and card playing escalated in England, and by the 17th century the Christmas season featured lavish dinners, elaborate masques and pageants. In 1607, King James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. It was during the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 in 16th–17th century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

Reformation into the 19th century



Following the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, groups such as the Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

s strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery
Papist
Papist is a term or an anti-Catholic slur, referring to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings, practices, or adherents. The term was coined during the English Reformation to denote a person whose loyalties were to the Pope, rather than to the Church of England...

" or the "rags of the Beast
The Beast (Bible)
The Beast of Revelation, may refer to two beasts in the apocalyptic visions by John of Patmos, as written in the Book of Revelation. The first beast comes from "out of the sea". The second beast comes from "out of the earth" and directs all peoples of the earth to worship the first. This first...

."
The Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. King Charles I of England
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian
Roundhead
"Roundhead" was the nickname given to the supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War. Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I and his supporters, the Cavaliers , who claimed absolute power and the divine right of kings...

 victory over Charles I during the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, England's Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 rulers banned Christmas in 1647.

Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury
Canterbury
Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city, which lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a district of Kent in South East England. It lies on the River Stour....

 was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly
Holly
Ilex) is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones world wide....

 and shouted royalist slogans. The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", and carol singing.
The Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 of King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 in 1660 ended the ban, but many clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. In Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland
Church of Scotland
The Church of Scotland, known informally by its Scots language name, the Kirk, is a Presbyterian church, decisively shaped by the Scottish Reformation....

 also discouraged observance of Christmas. James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, however attendance at church was scant.

In Colonial America
Colonial America
The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement and especially the history of the thirteen colonies of Britain until they declared independence in 1776. In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major...

, the Puritans of New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. Celebration was outlawed in Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.

At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 and New York observed the holiday freely. Pennsylvania German Settlers, pre-eminently the Moravian settlers of Bethlehem
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Bethlehem is a city in Lehigh and Northampton Counties in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 74,982, making it the seventh largest city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie,...

, Nazareth
Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Nazareth is a borough in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. The population was 6,023 at the 2000 census.Nazareth is located seven miles northwest of Easton, four miles north of Bethlehem and twelve miles northeast of Allentown...

 and Lititz in Pennsylvania and the Wachovia
Wachovia, North Carolina
Wachovia was the area settled by Moravians in what is now Forsyth County, North Carolina, US. Of the six eighteenth-century Moravian "villages of the Lord" established in Wachovia, today, the town of Bethania, North Carolina and city of Winston-Salem exist within the historic Wachovia tract...

 Settlements in North Carolina, were enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas. The Moravians in Bethlehem had the first Christmas trees in America as well as the first Nativity Scenes. Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, when it was considered an English custom.
George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 attacked Hessian (German) mercenaries on Christmas during the Battle of Trenton
Battle of Trenton
The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, after General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the...

 in 1777, Christmas being much more popular in Germany than in America at this time.

By the 1820s, sectarian
Sectarianism
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.The ideological...

 tension had eased in Britain and writers, including William Winstanly, began to worry that Christmas was dying out. These writers imagined Tudor
Tudor period
The Tudor period usually refers to the period between 1485 and 1603, specifically in relation to the history of England. This coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII...

 Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts were made to revive the holiday. In 1843, Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 wrote the novel A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman & Hall on 17 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of...

, that helped revive the 'spirit' of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Its instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion.

Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. A prominent phrase from the tale, 'Merry Christmas', was popularized following the appearance of the story.

The term Scrooge
Ebenezer Scrooge
Ebenezer Scrooge is the principal character in Charles Dickens's 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the novel, Scrooge is a cold-hearted, tight-fisted and greedy man, who despises Christmas and all things which give people happiness...

 became a synonym for miser
Miser
A miser, cheapskate, snipe-snout, penny pincher, piker, scrooge, skinflint or tightwad is a person who is reluctant to spend money, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts and some necessities...

, with 'Bah! Humbug!'
Humbug
Humbug is an old term meaning hoax or jest. While the term was first described in 1751 as student slang, its etymology is unknown. Its present meaning as an exclamation is closer to 'nonsense' or 'gibberish', while as a noun, a humbug refers to a fraud or impostor, implying an element of...

dismissive of the festive spirit. In 1843, the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole. The revival of the Christmas Carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

 began with William B. Sandys
William B. Sandys
William B. Sandys , was an English solicitor, member of the Percy Society, fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and remembered for his publication Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern , a collection of seasonal carols that Sandys had gathered and also apparently improvised...

 Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833), with the first appearance in print of 'The First Noel'
The First Noël
The First Nowell is a traditional classical English carol, most likely from the 18th century, although possibly earlier...

, 'I Saw Three Ships'
I Saw Three Ships
"I Saw Three Ships " is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. A variant of its parent tune "Greensleeves", the earliest printed version of "I Saw Three Ships" is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William B. Sandys in 1833...

, 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen', popularized in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover
Kingdom of Hanover
The Kingdom of Hanover was established in October 1814 by the Congress of Vienna, with the restoration of George III to his Hanoverian territories after the Napoleonic era. It succeeded the former Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg , and joined with 38 other sovereign states in the German...

, by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III...

, Queen to King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

. In 1832 a young Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it. After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, by 1841 the custom became more widespread throughout Britain.

An image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, created a sensation when it was published in the Illustrated London News
Illustrated London News
The Illustrated London News was the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper; the first issue appeared on Saturday 14 May 1842. It was published weekly until 1971 and then increasingly less frequently until publication ceased in 2003.-History:...

in 1848. A modified version of this image was published in the United States in 1850. By the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America.
In America, interest in Christmas had been revived in the 1820s by several short stories
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 by Washington Irving
Washington Irving
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works...

 which appear in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories written by American author Washington Irving. It was published serially throughout 1819 and 1820...

and "Old Christmas". Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall
Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a municipally owned Jacobean-style mansion in Aston, Birmingham, England. Washington Irving used it as the model for Bracebridge Hall in his stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.-History:...

, Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned, and he used the tract Vindication of Christmas (1652) of Old English Christmas traditions, that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories.

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore
Clement Clarke Moore
Clement Clarke Moore was an American professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia College, now Columbia University. He donated land from his family estate for the foundation of the General Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of Biblical learning and compiled a two-volume...

 wrote the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas
A Visit from St. Nicholas
"A Visit from St. Nicholas", also known as "The Night Before Christmas" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from its first line, is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, although the claim has also been made that it was written by Henry...

(popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas).
The poem helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance.
This also started the cultural conflict of the holiday's spiritualism and its commercialism
Commercialism
Commercialism, in its original meaning, is the practices, methods, aims, and spirit of commerce or business. Today, however, it primarily refers to the tendency within open-market capitalism to turn everything into objects, images, and services sold for the purpose of generating profit...

 that some see as corrupting the holiday. In her 1850 book "The First Christmas in New England", Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom...

 includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree.

While the celebration of Christmas was not yet customary in some regions in the U.S., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

 detected "a transition state about Christmas here in New England" in 1856. "The old puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so".
In Reading, Pennsylvania
Reading, Pennsylvania
Reading is a city in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA, and seat of Berks County. Reading is the principal city of the Greater Reading Area and had a population of 88,082 as of the 2010 census, making it the fifth most populated city in the state after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Erie,...

, a newspaper remarked in 1861, "Even our presbyterian friends who have hitherto steadfastly ignored Christmas — threw open their church doors and assembled in force to celebrate the anniversary of the Savior's birth".

The First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, 'although of genuine Puritan stock', was 'preparing for a grand Christmas jubilee', a news correspondent reported in 1864. By 1860, fourteen states including several from New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 had adopted Christmas as a legal holiday. In 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States Federal holiday
Federal holiday
In the United States, a federal holiday is a public holiday recognized by the United States federal government. Non-essential federal government offices are closed...

, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

. Subsequently, in 1875, Louis Prang
Louis Prang
Louis Prang was an American printer, lithographer and publisher. He is sometimes known as the "father of the American Christmas card".- Youth :...

 introduced the Christmas card to Americans. He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card".

Controversy and criticism



Throughout the holiday's history, Christmas has been the subject of both controversy and criticism from a wide variety of different sources. The first documented Christmas controversy was Christian-led, and began during the English Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

, when England was ruled by a Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 Parliament
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

. Puritans (including those who fled to America) sought to remove the remaining pagan elements of Christmas. During this brief period, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas entirely, considering it "a popish festival with no biblical justification", and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior.

Controversy and criticism continues in the present-day, where some Christian and non-Christians have claimed that an affront to Christmas (dubbed a "war on Christmas" by some) is ongoing. In the United States there has been a tendency to replace the greeting Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

 have initiated court cases to bar the display of images and other material referring to Christmas from public property, including schools. Such groups argue that government-funded displays of Christmas imagery and traditions violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

, which prohibits the establishment by Congress of a national religion. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lynch vs. Donnelly that a Christmas display (which included a Nativity scene) owned and displayed by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Pawtucket is a city in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 71,148 at the 2010 census. It is the fourth largest city in the state.-History:...

 did not violate the First Amendment.
In November 2009, the Federal appeals court in Philadelphia endorsed a school district's ban on the singing of Christmas carols.

In the private sphere also, it has been alleged that any specific mention of the term "Christmas" or its religious aspects was being increasingly censored
Censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

, avoided, or discouraged by a number of advertisers
Advertising
Advertising is a form of communication used to persuade an audience to take some action with respect to products, ideas, or services. Most commonly, the desired result is to drive consumer behavior with respect to a commercial offering, although political and ideological advertising is also common...

 and retailers. In response, the American Family Association
American Family Association
The American Family Association is a 501 non-profit organization that promotes conservative Christian values, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, pornography, and abortion, as well as other public policy goals such as deregulation of the oil industry and lobbying against the Employee Free...

 and other groups have organized boycotts of individual retailers.
In the United Kingdom there have been some minor controversies, one of the most famous being the temporary promotion of the Christmas period as Winterval
Winterval
Winterval was a season of public events in Birmingham, England organised by Birmingham City Council in each of two consecutive winters: first from 20 November to 31 December 1997, and then again from mid-October 1998 to mid-January 1999...

 by Birmingham City Council in 1998. There were also protests in November 2009 when the city of Dundee
Dundee
Dundee is the fourth-largest city in Scotland and the 39th most populous settlement in the United Kingdom. It lies within the eastern central Lowlands on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, which feeds into the North Sea...

 promoted its celebrations as the Winter Night Light festival, initially with no specific Christmas references.

Economics


Christmas is typically the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations around the world. Sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas and shops introduce new products as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies. In the U.S., the "Christmas shopping season" starts as early as October. In Canada, merchants begin advertising campaigns just before Halloween
Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

 (October 31), and step up their marketing following Remembrance Day on November 11. In the UK and Ireland, the Christmas shopping season starts from mid November, around the time when high street Christmas lights
Christmas lights
Christmas lights are lights used for decoration around Christmas. The use of decorative, festive lighting during the Christmas holiday season is a long standing tradition in many Christian cultures, and has been adopted as a secular practice in a number of other non-Christian, or predominantly...

 are turned on. In the United States, it has been calculated that a quarter of all personal spending takes place during the Christmas/holiday shopping season. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that expenditure in department stores nationwide rose from $20.8 billion in November 2004 to $31.9 billion in December 2004, an increase of 54 percent. In other sectors, the pre-Christmas increase in spending was even greater, there being a November – December buying surge of 100 percent in bookstores and 170 percent in jewelry stores. In the same year employment in American retail stores rose from 1.6 million to 1.8 million in the two months leading up to Christmas. Industries completely dependent on Christmas include Christmas card
Christmas card
A Christmas card is a greeting card sent as part of the traditional celebration of Christmas in order to convey between people a range of sentiments related to the Christmas and holiday season. Christmas cards are usually exchanged during the weeks preceding Christmas Day by many people in Western...

s, of which 1.9 billion are sent in the United States each year, and live Christmas Trees, of which 20.8 million were cut in the USA in 2002. In the UK in 2010, up to £8 billion was expected to be spent online at Christmas, approximately a quarter of total retail festive sales.

In most Western nations, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for business and commerce; almost all retail, commercial and institutional businesses are closed, and almost all industries cease activity (more than any other day of the year), whether laws require such or not. In England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004
Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004
The Christmas Day Act 2004 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It prevents shops over 280 m²/3,000 sq ft from opening on Christmas Day in England and Wales...

 prevents all large shops from trading on Christmas Day. Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 is currently planning similar legislation. Film studios release many high-budget movies during the holiday season, including Christmas films, fantasy
Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 movies or high-tone dramas with high production values.

One economist
Economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

's analysis calculates that, despite increased overall spending, Christmas is a deadweight loss
Deadweight loss
In economics, a deadweight loss is a loss of economic efficiency that can occur when equilibrium for a good or service is not Pareto optimal...

 under orthodox microeconomic theory, because of the effect of gift-giving. This loss is calculated as the difference between what the gift giver spent on the item and what the gift receiver would have paid for the item. It is estimated that in 2001, Christmas resulted in a $4 billion deadweight loss in the U.S. alone. Because of complicating factors, this analysis is sometimes used to discuss possible flaws in current microeconomic theory. Other deadweight losses include the effects of Christmas on the environment and the fact that material gifts are often perceived as white elephant
White elephant
A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth...

s, imposing cost for upkeep and storage and contributing to clutter.

See also



  • Christmas Eve
    Christmas Eve
    Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

  • Christmas Sunday
    Christmas Sunday
    Christmas Sunday is a name for the Sunday after Christmas.In the United Kingdom, if Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, 26 December is sometimes referred to as "Christmas Sunday", and Boxing Day moves to 27 December, although this practice has now fallen out of common usage and 26 December is...

  • Christmas worldwide
    Christmas worldwide
    The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and/or the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the...

  • Little Christmas
    Little Christmas
    Little Christmas is one of the traditional names in Ireland for January 6, more commonly known in the rest of the world as the Celebration of the Epiphany. It is so called because it was the day on which Christmas Day was celebrated under the Julian calendar, before the adoption of the Gregorian...

  • Midwinter Christmas
  • Midwinter
  • Twelve days of Christmas
    Twelve Days of Christmas
    The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day . This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which...

  • Yuletide
  • Waffle day
    Waffle day
    Waffle Day is a tradition that is celebrated in Sweden, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, on March 25. Waffles are typically eaten on this day. The name comes from Vårfrudagen , which in vernacular Swedish sounds almost like Våffeldagen...

     (March 25, 9 months before Christmas)


Further reading


  • The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum (1996; New York: Vintage Books, 1997). ISBN 0-679-74038-4
  • The Origins of Christmas, by Joseph F. Kelly (August 2004: Liturgical Press) ISBN 978-0-8146-2984-0
  • Christmas Customs and Traditions, by Clement A. Miles (1976: Dover Publications) ISBN 978-0-486-23354-3
  • The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerry Bowler (October 2004: McClelland & Stewart) ISBN 978-0-7710-1535-9
  • Santa Claus: A Biography, by Gerry Bowler (November 2007: McClelland & Stewart) ISBN 978-0-7710-1668-4
  • There Really Is a Santa Claus: The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions, by William J. Federer (December 2002: Amerisearch) ISBN 978-0-9653557-4-2
  • St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, by Jim Rosenthal (July 2006: Nelson Reference) ISBN 1-4185-0407-6
  • Just say Noel: A History of Christmas from the Nativity to the Nineties, by David Comfort (November 1995: Fireside) ISBN 978-0-684-80057-8
  • 4000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages, by Earl W. Count (November 1997: Ulysses Press) ISBN 978-1-56975-087-2


External links


  • Christmas: Its Origin and Associations, by William Francis Dawson, 1902, from Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

  • Christmas Newswire