A depiction of the Nativity of Jesus with a Christmas tree backdrop
|Also called||Noël, Nativity, Xmas, Yule|
|Observed by||Christians, many non-Christians|
|Significance||Commemoration of the birth of Jesus|
|Celebrations||social gatherings and feasting etc.|
|Related to||Christmas Eve|
Christmas or Christmas Day (Old English: Crīstesmæsse, meaning " Christ's Mass") is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus, observed most commonly on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is prepared for by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an Octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated culturally by a large number of non-Christian people, and is an integral part of the holiday season, while some Christian groups reject the celebration. In several countries, celebrating Christmas Eve on December 24 has the main focus rather than December 25, with gift-giving and sharing a traditional meal with the family.
The Christian ecclesiastical calendar contains many remnants of pre-Christian festivals. Although the dating as December 25 predates pagan influence, the later development of Christmas as a festival includes elements of the Roman feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra as described in the Roman cult of Mithraism.
The Chronography of 354 AD contains early evidence of the celebration on December 25 of a Christian liturgical feast of the birth of Jesus. This was in Rome, while in Eastern Christianity the birth of Jesus was already celebrated in connection with the Epiphany on January 6. The December 25 celebration was imported into the East later: in Antioch by John Chrysostom towards the end of the 4th century, probably in 388, and in Alexandria only in the following century. Even in the West, the January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380. In 245, Origen of Alexandria, writing about Leviticus 12:1–8, commented that Scripture mentions only sinners as celebrating their birthdays, namely Pharaoh, who then had his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20–22), and Herod, who then had John the Baptist beheaded (Mark 6:21–27), and mentions saints as cursing the day of their birth, namely Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14–15) and Job (Job 3:1–16). In 303, Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, a passage cited as evidence that Arnobius was unaware of any nativity celebration. Since Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth "as God" but "as man", this is not evidence against Christmas being a feast at this time. The fact the Donatists of North Africa celebrated Christmas may indicate that the feast was established by the time that church was created in 311.
Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus' birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity. These elements, including the Yule log from Yule and gift giving from Saturnalia, became syncretized into Christmas over the centuries. The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival-like state in the Middle Ages, to a tamer family-oriented and children-centered theme introduced in a 19th-century transformation. Additionally, the celebration of Christmas was banned on more than one occasion within certain Protestant groups, such as the Puritans, due to concerns that it was too pagan or unbiblical. The Seventh-day Adventist and also the Jehovas Witnesse reject Christmas celebration.
Irenaeus (c. 130–202) viewed Christ's conception as March 25 in association with the Passion, with the nativity nine months after on December 25. Hippolytus of Rome (170–235) may also have identified December 25 for the birth of Jesus and March 25 for the conception. Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160–c. 240) identified December 25, later to become the most widely accepted date of celebration, as the date of Jesus' birth in 221. The precise origin of assigning December 25 to the birth of Jesus is unclear. Various dates were speculated: May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17 or 20. When celebration on a particular date began, January 6 prevailed at least in the East; but, except among Armenians (the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Evangelical Church), who continue to celebrate the birth on January 6, December 25 eventually won acceptance everywhere.
The New Testament Gospel of Luke may indirectly give the date as December for the birth of Jesus, with the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist cited by John Chrysostom (c. 386) as a date for the Annunciation. Tertullian (d. 220) did not mention Christmas as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In Chronographai, a reference work published in 221, Sextus Julius Africanus suggested that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox. The equinox was March 25 on the Roman calendar, so this implied a birth in December.
The belief that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity, rather than the exact birth date, is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas.
In the early 4th century, the church calendar in Rome contained Christmas on December 25 and other holidays placed on solar dates. According to Hijmans "It is cosmic symbolism ... which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the southern solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the northern solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception." Usener and othersproposed that the Christians chose this day because it was the Roman feast celebrating the birthday of Sol Invictus. Modern scholar S. E. Hijmans, however, states that "While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas."
Around the year 386 John Chrysostom delivered a sermon in Antioch in favour of adopting December 25 celebration also in the East, since, he said, the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26) had been announced during the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist (Luke 1:10–13), which he dated from the duties Zacharias performed on the Day of Atonement during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar Ethanim or Tishri (Leviticus 16:29, 1 Kings 8:2) which falls from late September to early October. That shepherds watched the flocks by night in the fields in the winter time is supported by the phrase "frost by night" in Genesis 31:38–40. A special group known as the shepherds of Migdal Eder (Genesis 35:19–21, Micah 4:8) watched the flocks by night year round pastured for Temple Sacrifice near Bethlehem.
In the early 18th century, some scholars proposed alternative explanations. Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas, celebrating the birth of him whom Christians consider to be the "Sun of righteousness" prophesied in Malachi 4:2,was selected to correspond with the southern solstice, which the Romans called bruma, celebrated on December 25. In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. It has been argued that, on the contrary, the Emperor Aurelian, who in 274 instituted the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, did so partly as an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already important for Christians in Rome. In 1889, Louis Duchesne proposed that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after the Annunciation, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus.
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...the Armenians in Jerusalem – and only in Jerusalem – celebrate Christmas on January 19...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Several branches of Eastern Christianity that use the Julian calendar also celebrate on December 25 according to that calendar, which is now January 7 on the Gregorian calendar. Armenian Churches observed the nativity on January 6 even before the Gregorian calendar originated. Most Armenian Christians use the Gregorian calendar, still celebrating Christmas Day on January 6. Some Armenian churches use the Julian calendar, thus celebrating Christmas Day on January 19 on the Gregorian calendar, with January 18 being Christmas Eve.
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In 567 the Council of Tours proclaimed that the entire period between Christmas and Epiphany should be considered part of the celebration, creating what became known as the twelve days of Christmas, or what the English called Christmastide. On the last of the twelve days, called Twelfth Night, various cultures developed a wide range of additional special festivities. The variation extends even to the issue of how to count the days. If Christmas Day is the first of the twelve days, then Twelfth Night would be on January 5, the eve of Epiphany. If December 26, the day after Christmas, is the first day, then Twelfth Night falls on January 6, the evening of Epiphany itself. After Christmas and Epiphany were in place, on December 25 and January 6, with the twelve days of Christmas in between, Christians gradually added a period called Advent, as a time of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Senn, Frank C. (2012). Introduction to Christian Liturgy. Fortress Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781451424331.
We noted above that late medieval calendars introduced a reduced three-day octave for Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost that were retained in Roman Catholic and passed into Lutheran and Anglican calendars.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Non-Christians focus on secular side of Christmas – Sioux City Journal. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
- "The survival of Roman religion" in the section on the history of the Roman religion in Encyclopaedia Britannica
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partially quoted in "Natal Day", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.
- McCracken, George, Arnobius of Sicca, the Case Against the Pagans, Volume 2, p. 83, . "Therefore if this is a fact, how can Jupiter be god if it is agreed that god is everlasting, while the other is represented by you to have a birthday, and frightened by the new experience, to have squalled like an infant."
G. Brunner, "Arnobius eine Zeuge gegen das Weihnachtsfest? " JLW 13 (1936) pp. 178–181.
- Thomas Comerford Lawler (editor), Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany (of Saint Augustine). Paulist Press 1952 ISBN 978-0-80910137-5, p. 10
- Susan K. Roll, Toward the Origin of Christmas (Peeters Publishers 1995 ISBN 978-90-3900531-6), p. 169
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- Kelly, Joseph F., The Origins of Christmas, Liturgical Press, 2004, p. 67-69.
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- Roll, p. 79, 80. Only fragments of Chronographai survive. In one fragment, Africanus referred to "Pege in Bethlehem" and "Lady Pege, Spring-bearer." See "Narrative Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ Narrative".
- Bradt, Hale, Astronomy Methods, (2004), p. 69.
Roll p. 87.
- The Liturgical Year. Thomas Nelson. November 3, 2009. ISBN 9781418580735. Retrieved April 2, 2009.
Christmas is not really about the celebration of a birth date at all. It is about the celebration of a birth. The fact of the date and the fact of the birth are two different things. The calendrical verification of the feast itself is not really that important ... What is important to the understanding of a life-changing moment is that it happened, not necessarily where or when it happened. The message is clear: Christmas is not about marking the actual birth date of Jesus. It is about the Incarnation of the One who became like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15) and who humbled Himself "to the point of death-even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). Christmas is a pinnacle feast, yes, but it is not the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a memorial, a remembrance, of the birth of Jesus, not really a celebration of the day itself. We remember that because the Jesus of history was born, the Resurrection of the Christ of faith could happen.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- "The Christmas Season". CRI / Voice, Institute. Retrieved April 2, 2009.
The origins of the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as the dates on which they are observed, are rooted deeply in the history of the early church. There has been much scholarly debate concerning the exact time of the year when Jesus was born, and even in what year he was born. Actually, we do not know either. The best estimate is that Jesus was probably born in the springtime, somewhere between the years of 6 and 4 BC, as December is in the middle of the cold rainy season in Bethlehem, when the sheep are kept inside and not on pasture as told in the Bible. The lack of a consistent system of timekeeping in the first century, mistakes in later calendars and calculations, and lack of historical details to cross reference events has led to this imprecision in fixing Jesus' birth. This suggests that the Christmas celebration is not an observance of a historical date, but a commemoration of the event in terms of worship.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- The School Journal, Volume 49. Harvard University. 1894. Retrieved April 2, 2009.
Throughout the Christian world the 25th of December is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ. There was a time when the churches were not united regarding the date of the joyous event. Many Christians kept their Christmas in April, others in May, and still others at the close of September, till finally December 25 was agreed upon as the most appropriate date. The choice of that day was, of course, wholly arbitrary, for neither the exact date not the period of the year at which the birth of Christ occurred is known. For purposes of commemoration, however, it is unimportant whether the celebration shall fall or not at the precise anniversary of the joyous event.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Hijmans, S.E., Sol, the sun in the art and religions of Rome, 2009, p. 595. ISBN 978-90-367-3931-3 Archived May 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Hermann Usener, Das Weihnachtsfest (Part 1 of Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, Second edition 1911; Verlag von Max Cohen & Sohn, Bonn. (Note that the first edition, 1889, doesn't have the discussion of Natalis Solis Invicti); also Sol Invictus (1905).)
- Edersheim, Alfred (1883). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II Chapter 6, p. 131.
- "Bruma", Seasonal Festivals of the Greeks and Romans
Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 18:59
- Roll, pp. 88–90.
Duchesne, Louis, Les Origines du Culte Chrétien, Paris, 1902, 262 ff.