The first Christmas celebrated in A.D. 336. By 1100, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe and Saint Nicholas was the symbol of gift giving but then replaced by Santa Claus in the United States and other countries.
The word Xmas is sometimes used instead of Christmas. X is Christ's first letter in Greek.
The Celebration of Christmas
Religious practices. For most Christians, the Christmas season begins on the Sunday nearest November 30. The first Sunday of the month of December is the first day of Advent, a four-week period where Christians prepare for the celebration of Christmas. The word ADVENT means a COMING and refers to the coming of Jesus on Christmas day.
During the Christmas season many houses and churches display a creche (Nativity scene). It has figures of Mary and Joseph praying beside the infant Jesus in the stable and figures of the Magi, angels, shephered, and various animals surround the Holy Family.
For many Christians, the Christmas season reaches a climax at midnight mass or other religious services on Christmas Eve. Most churches also hold services on Christmas day. Christmas ends on January 6, Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates the coming of the Wise Men to the Christ child and it falls on the 12th day after Christmas.
Gift Giving. The people give each other small presents as part of their year-end and christmas celebrations. This custom probably began in ancient Rome and northern Europe.
Today, Santa Claus brings presents to children in many countries. A number of other countries have their own versions of Santa Claus, such as Father Christmas in the British Isles, Pere Noel in France and Weihnachtsmann in Germany.
The custom of hanging stockings or socks by the fireplace or near their window probably developed when Magi put small gifts in the shoes during the night.
Christmas feasting. The preparation of special foods became an important part of the Christmas celebration thoughout the world. Many of which lasted for several days.
At the first Christmas feast people roast boars, pigs and peacocks over large open fires. Today, roasted turkey is the most popular main course in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Popular beverages served specially at Christmastime include eggnog in the United States and hot, spicy wassail in England and hot punch made with spices, sweet liquors, raisins and nuts in Sweden.
In the United States the favorite Christmas desserts are include fruitcake, mince pie and pumpkin pie. Plum pudding is traditional in Canada and British Isles.
Christmas decorations. The traditional colors of Christmas are green and red. Green represents the continuance of life though the winter and the Christian belief in eternal life through Christ. Red symbolizes the blood that Jesus shed at His Crucifixion. Wreath, holly, mistletoe and Christmas trees feature these colors.
The Christmas tree probably developed in medieval Germany from the "Paradise Tree", a type of evergreen. This tree decorated with red apples used in a popular Christmas play about Adam and Eve.
Holly is an evergreen tree with glossy leaves and bright red berries. It is used in making Christmas wreaths and other decorations. They called it holy tree, and the word holly may have come from this name.
Mistletoe is an evergreen plant with dark leaves and shiny white berries. Ancient Celtic priests considered the plant sacred and gave people sprigs of it to use as charms.
Christmas carols. The word carol came from a Gree dance called a choraulein, which was accompanies with a flute music. Most of the carols sung today were originaly composed in the 1700's and 1800's. They include "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". The words of the famous carol "Silent Night" were written on Christmas Eve in 1818 by Joseph Mohr, an Australian priest while at the midnight Mass in 1847 "O Holy Night" introduced, another famous carol.
Christmas card. "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you" was the first message on the card created in 1843 by John Calcott Horsley, and English illustrator.