For the Christian, Christmas is a wonderful, warm season of the year, full of rich memories and happily-anticipated traditions. The holiday, in fact, is built around repeating and enjoying the renewal of these traditions, a warm and pleasant season during the cold wintertime. For many, Christmas is the most important holiday of the year.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary , the meaning of the word “Christmas” is from the Old English christes maesse, or the mass of ChristThe term Xmas is a legitimate form of Christmas as the X represents the initial chi of the Greek Khristos, meaning “Christ.”
The Selection of Dates for Christmas
While Christmas is a holiday set apart to celebrate the birth of Jesus, through the years Christmas has become largely a celebration of traditions that have little to do with the sacred birth in the minds of those who celebrate the season.
Winter was selected arbitrarily by the Church as early as the 4th century as the season to celebrate Christmas. The calendar of church feasts was divided by major holidays with Christmas and Easter set on the solstices.
This selection was a perpetuation of the popularly followed pre-Christian celebration of the winter solstice designated as December 25th on the ancient Roman calendar. Some Christian traditions are actually pre-Christian in origin, such as the Yule log, mistletoe, and the Christmas tree.
The date of December 25th corresponds with January 7th on the Julian calendar, the day celebrated as Christmas by the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Gregorian calendar sets this day on January 19th, the day followed by the Armenian churches.
The magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem from some distance in the East were though to have arrived on January 6th. This visit is celebrated by some as what is called “The Epiphany,” and it marks the formal end to the Christmas season for some churches.
Examples of Christmas Traditions
- Some of the traditions which celebrate the Christmas season include:
- exchanging giving gifts with family and friends wrapped in beautiful Christmas paper and ribbon
- giving gifts and money to strangers and charities
- singing and listening to Christmas carols, performing or listening to Handel’s Messiah
- sending greeting cards
- attending church celebrations and services
- making traditional candy and cookies and giving plates of these goodies to others
- gathering for special meals or treats and appetizers, drinking egg nog
- decorating the house with Christimas ornaments often in red and green, including wreaths, holly and mistletoe
- decorating Christmas trees
- use of colored lights, sometimes red and green, throughout the house, on the Christmas tree, and outside the house, especially along the rafters
- decorating with nativity scenes
- decorating with scenes of winter, including houses and people in the snow
- decorating with Santa Claus, his elves, his sleigh and reindeer
- waiting from Christmas Eve for Santa Claus to arrive
- opening presents on Christmas morning, including those left by Santa Claus
Universal Popularity of the Season
The popularity of the Christmas season extends beyond the active Christian to the inactive Christian and the non-Christian. Many countries, while for the most part not Christian, look forward to celebrating the holiday with traditions such as decorations and holiday parties.
In some countries such as Japan, Christmas is celebrated like New Year’s in the U.S.A. with parties, alcohol and gaiety, and is often viewed as a romantic holiday. western-style decorations and lighted Christmas trees are popular, and many of the western traditions are known and followed.
On the other hand, New Year’s Day, the most important holiday of the year in Japan, is celebrated quietly with family and friends at home, and by visiting temples and shrines, and following the ancient traditions of the country.