Whether you’re Christian or not, you must know that in parts of the world following the Gregorian calender today is Christmas! For all the “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” love that we spread, how many of us really know what Christmas is? So, regardless of your beliefs or lack thereof, I figured a breakdown of this quaint day each year would be apropos.
Christmas is the abbreviated “Christ’s Mass” that comes from Old English.
Christ’s Mass is the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth as a son of God.
Some cultures celebrate this on January 6th-10th (depending) because they don’t use the Gregorian calender, they use an older calender (Julian).
X-mas, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t take the Christ out of Christmas but is actually shorthand for Christ in Greek (where the abbreviation originated from) where Christ is spelled Χριστός.
Most other cultures celebrated winter solstice instead of Christmas– Anglo Saxons with midwinter, medieval Europe with Yule (hence Yuletide spirit), Viking-age Jól, and ancient Rome with Solis Invicti or even burma, as well as other ancient cultures. At some point during history and with Christianity spreading over the world, these celebrations merged with the Christian celebration. Others argue the date played no part in why Christians chose December 25th or near the winter solstice to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
As for decorations, the green symbolizes the eternal life and the red symbolizes the blood of Jesus that was shed in crucifixion.
Before there were Christmas trees, lots of ancient cultures appreciated the green–specifically the evergreen trees– for remaining green even during the winter when the sun was thought to be weak and sick (probably like lots of people who get weak and sick from too much cold!). Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Vikings to name a few used boughs or branches (like wreaths) to put in their homes and ward off against sickness and negativity. The modern day practice of cutting down a tree, decorating it, and bringing it into the house or public domain is usually accredited to Germany and some Christians like Martin Luther or Saint Boniface.
The poinsettia plant comes from Mexico and is associate with Christmas for many reasons– the red and green colors and the star shaped pattern of the leaves symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem.
Christmas carols date all the way back to ancient Rome! Some of the more modern carols were for the winter season celebrations in general called “harvest tide” in the middle ages. Just as now with the declining spirit around caroling, some Christian groups considered carols to be sacrilegious and didn’t promote this tradition though Martin Luther’s Lutheranism supported the use of carols and even contributed a few of their own.
Oranges and other citrus fruits are associated with Christmas because they’re one of the few winter fruits that are available in the cold climates where many of these traditions were established.
The first Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole in 1843! So, about 165 years later, this is a well-loved tradition that all cultures engage in.
Exchanging gifts and other presents hails back to the ancient Romans’ celebration of Saturnalia and this practice was even banned at one point in the Middle Ages because of its “pagan” origins. Today it’s commonly accepted that giving gifts is akin to the gifts the three wise men gave Jesus at his birth (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
The great Santa Claus is from a long line of other super generous dudes like Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Weihnachtsmann, Christkind, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, Babbo Natale, Saint Basil, Father Frost and more! Santa Claus comes from Sinterklaas which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas. Good ole Saint Nick comes from 4th Century Turkey where he cared for the kiddies, gave lots of love and things to those in need and presents for the good of heart. With his recognition as a saint, there was a feast at the start of December where gift-giving became popular.
Saint Nicholas wore red (he was a Bishop) and would ask whether kids were good or not to see whether they deserved a gift or not. To make this a more Christian oriented endeavour, the name was changed to Christkindl (Christ Child) and eventually became Kris Kringle in English. They holiday was also moved from the beginning of December to merge with Christmas.
As for Father Christmas, he was originally a goofy, merry and spirited representation of Christmas cheer with less to do with passing out presents than passing out drunk from a super excellent Christmas celebration. Hence the rotund belly and rosy cheeks (from a few too many drinks). Eventually, the more PG version was adopted or merged with the prevailing Santa Claus archetype.
There are tons more interesting facts about Christmas if you’re so inclined to read up on it. Much of what we celebrate (or avoid) on this day in Christmas is actually from many different cultures and times in history! Christians have incorporated (and at different times banned) different celebrations and rituals into this celebration.
Whether you’re Christian or not, enjoy this holiday and bask in the many different aspects of this celebration. And now that you know what Christmas is all about, you might even enjoy it more knowing there’s more than just Christ in Christmas.