Christmas

Christmas: History, Traditions, and Celebrations

Last Updated: July 23, 2021

On December 25th, most people around the world celebrate Christmas. The day will be filled with joyful carols, gift exchanges, and festive foods. In the Christian faith, it is their celebration of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. But not all countries celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. For those from the Eastern Orthodox churches, they follow the Julian calendar. They honor January 7th as their Christmas.

Christmas celebration is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide commercial phenomenon. People have been observing it with practices and traditions since the birth of Jesus. Families enjoy gift-giving on Christmas morning under a Christmas tree. Many take part in church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Oftentimes the celebration continues when they later gather for Christmas dinner with extended family.

What is the Meaning of Christmas?

Christmas is an annual Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Western church celebrates every 25th of December.  The holiday honors the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. The English term Christmas means “Mass on Christ’s day”. A Mass service is often held to remind Christians why Jesus is the reason for this season.

The traditional date of Christmas goes back as far as A.D. 273. Two pagan festivals are being celebrated on that day honoring the sun. Experts say that they chose December 25 to counteract the influence of paganism.

Origin of the Birth of Jesus

There is no historical record that marks the exact date of Jesus’ birthday. Even the Bible offers few clues. There are two theories about why the Christmas celebration is on December 25th. First, many religious people from different parts of the world celebrate holidays during that time.

Early Europeans rejoiced during the light and birth in the darkest days of the winter solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, December 21st or 22nd were the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting. The pagan solstice meant that the worst of the winter was behind them. They could now look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

The Yule in Germany is celebrated to recognize the return of the sun. The fathers and sons would bring home large logs which they would set on fire. The Norse in Germany would then feast until the log burned out representing new life.

The second theory suggests December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth.  They believed that day as the Immaculate Conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. The early church celebrated the conception 9 months after as well as the baptism of Jesus.

Modern Christmas Traditions

Christmas is such a magical time of the year. It is so special and full of wonder, warm memories, and family traditions. Yet, this can also be the busiest time of the year for some that they get swept up by all the tasks to get done. People get so busy that they miss out on the reason for this celebration.

Christmas is the time for our families to celebrate the birth of Christ and remember the love that God has for humanity. It is important to create family traditions that are meaningful and point us toward Christ during the Christmas season. Here are some of the traditions that we can do to keep our focus on Jesus at Christmas time.

Christmas Eve

Christmas is “Christ-mass” or mass on Jesus Christ day is of fairly recent origin. Although nobody knew the exact birthday of Jesus Christ, the tradition of observing it goes back to at least the fourth century. Christians celebrate mass on the eve before Christmas. This is to replace the pagan solstice festivities around Europe.  

Christmas eve has a lot of customs and traditions around the world. The most practiced tradition is going to a Midnight Mass service. This is especially important for Catholics. Countries such as Spain and Italy fast during Christmas eve. They eat their Christmas meal after the midnight mass. Countries like Belgium and Denmark eat their Christmas meal and attend the church after.

Christmas Tree

Martin Luther is believed to be the first person who brought home a Christmas tree. He introduced the evergreen fir tree as the symbol of eternal life with God and lit them with candles. Candles symbolize Jesus as the Light of the World.

Setting up a Christmas tree is one of the traditions that is traced to Germany in the 1500s. The earliest Christmas trees were known as ‘paradises’ from the paradise trees used in a play on the feast of Adam and Eve. The Christmas tree was usually hung with round pastry wafers symbolizing the Eucharist. It was soon developed into cookie ornaments decorating German Christmas trees today.

Christmas Carols

There is nothing more inspiring than hearing songs that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from a biblical perspective. Singing Christmas carols is one of the traditions that tell the true Christmas story.

The first Christmas song was written in 1410. It talks about how Mary and Jesus met different people in Bethlehem. Christmas carols are still observed in many countries today. Children and adults alike visit their neighbors and sing Christmas songs in exchange for money or cookies.

Other Holiday Traditions

Santa Claus is one of the faces of Christmas celebrations. Santa Claus means Saint Nicholas in English. Saint Nicholas appears on feast day bringing modest gifts of candy and other gifts to children. Other Christmas traditions include Christmas bells associated with ringing out Christ’s good news. The Holly represents the thorns in Jesus’ crown. The gifts serve as a reminder of the 3 Kings and how God wants us to give.

Different Ways to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Christmas is celebrated in unique ways in different countries even those with few Christians. Generally, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. Some countries have different celebrations that sometimes take place over a longer period.

Eastern Orthodox churches honor December 25th as Christmas. Yet, many Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas on or near January 7th. The Christmas dates among the Oriental Orthodox may vary among some churches. For example, Armenia honors January 6th as Christmas according to their calendar.

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th. Most of the Syriac Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on December 25. Some of the Syriac Orthodox follow the Armenian Apostolic Church. They celebrate Christmas on January 6.

Here are some of the interesting ways of how countries from all over the world celebrate Christmas.

USA

Christmas in the USA is most celebrated from the eve of December 24th to December 25th. They celebrate the birth of Jesus with their traditions and customs. Christmas day is a public holiday and most establishments are closed. In the days or even weeks before Christmas Day, families decorate their homes with lights and Christmas trees. Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on a string as decorations. Most popular traditions are making a gingerbread house, drinking Eggnog, and eating turkey or ham with cranberry sauce as their traditional meal.

Germany

Festive Christmas markets are set up on main squares in many cities in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You can enjoy your Christmas shopping with a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a bratwurst in the other at festive outdoor markets. The sprawling seasonal markets have artisans selling gifts for everyone on your list. For the Germans, Christmas trees are very important. They are brought into the house on Christmas Eve and secretly decorated by the mother of the family. In some parts of the country, families read the Bible and sing Christmas songs during the evening. They practice the exchange of gifts during Christmas eve.

Philippines

In the Philippines, Filipinos usually celebrate Christmas as early as September. Most Filipinos are Catholics and have a high proportion of the population that is Christian. The formal Christmas celebrations start when they go to the first of nine early morning masses. The mass usually starts on the 16th of December and ends on the eve of Christmas day. Filipinos take Christmas celebrations seriously as many stay awake all night into Christmas day! Families go to church on Christmas eve and celebrate with a big feast they call Noche Buena. Filipinos also consider Christmas as a family holiday as they love to visit their relatives in the provinces.

Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th following the Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar. They call their Christmas celebration Ganna or Genna. They take part in a special Advent fast and only eat a vegan meal each day. Mass often begins with a special candlelit procession. Participants are dressed in a thin white shawl called a Netela. They walk around in a solemn procession three times holding candles before the service begins. Ethiopians do not practice giving gifts during Ganna. Instead, they focus on mass service, games, and food.

Japan

Christmas celebrations in Japan are still relatively new. Christmas festivities have only been celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. Christmas is still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan. Christmas festivities in Japan are typically seen as a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Eating fried chicken for Christmas dinner is one of their traditions. One of the traditional Christmas foods for the Japanese is a sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

Conclusion

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. The holiday can pass before we even know it. It is easy to forget the reason Christmas is celebrated in the first place. We should not get sidetracked, instead, we should get perspective. We should give honor where honor is due.

Take time to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas this holiday season. We should be glorifying the One who gave it all for us to be saved. We should choose reverence to the child who was born in humble circumstances. We should be reminded that without Jesus’ sacrificial death, salvation isn’t possible. The birth of Jesus changed everything and it’s a moment we should celebrate with all our hearts.

No matter what may be happening, we can be happy this Christmas! We should all be looking at Christmas in a new way this year. We should all be taking a chance to truly take in the wonder and awe of the season. Be reminded that Jesus Christ came with a plan for our redemption.

Rejoice, Jesus is enough to be the reason for this season!

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