until December 25, 2016
Christmas Facts and History
Christmas is the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe was the son of God. Celebrated around the world, it is one of the most important holidays in the Christian faith, but it has also become a secular holiday that is observed by people who are not devoutly religious.
When Is Christmas Celebrated?
Throughout most of the world, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 every year. There are many theories as to why this particular date was chosen; however, many historians believe that the date was selected because it coincided with the Roman pagan festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. This annual event was held to honor the birthday of the Unconquered Sun, and many early Christian writers associated Jesus Christ with this figure. In Orthodox Christianity, Christmas is sometimes celebrated two weeks later on January 6 or January 7 due to differences in Western and Eastern European calendars.
Modern Christmas Traditions
In the United States, Christmas Day is a national holiday so many people do not have to work on the day. Government offices are closed, and there is no mail service. There are a number of traditions that have arisen over the centuries, including:
- Gift Giving: It’s customary for friends and family members to exchange gifts in honor of Christmas. Children may be told that their gifts come from Santa Claus, a jolly man with a white beard who wears a red suit and is said to come down the chimney to leave presents for good girls and boys. The legend of Santa Claus is an amalgam of stories of figures like the fictional Father Christmas from 16th Century England and Saint Nicholas, a bishop who lived during the 4th century.
- Decorating a Tree: The tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas originated in Scotland and Ireland but became a real tradition in Germany during the 15th or 16th century. Originally, sweets and fruits were used as decorations but today, trees are usually covered with ornaments, garland, tinsel and lights. A star, an angel or a bow may be placed on the top of the tree.
- Sending Cards: Many people send greeting cards out during the holiday season. Cards typically have festive artwork on the front and may include photographs or updates about what has happened during the past year.
- Attending Church Services: Religious Christians may attend a church service or mass on the evening before Christmas commonly known as Christmas Eve. Services are also held at midnight on Christmas morning and later on Christmas morning at some churches.
- Celebrations: Most families will have a special meal either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Companies and social groups may hold parties during the days and weeks leading up to Christmas.
While Christmas is observed on December 25, the holiday has expanded from a single day to a month-long celebration. Typically, the Christmas season is thought to begin the day after Thanksgiving in the United States and to last through New Year’s Day.