Some Background to Consider
The original meaning of Christmas is a special church service, or mass, to celebrate the birth of Christ- the Christ Mass. To be more accurate, the word “Christmas” comes directly from the old English “Cristes maesse”, or the mass of Christ. It is likely that the Christmas date of December 25 was chosen to offset the Pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Christians celebrate the Christ Jesus’ birthday on December 25. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7.
The story of the Nativity, or the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, are particularly important in religious celebrations of Christmas. However, many traditions that are around today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and tree, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was celebrated. This was a relaxing time with a lot of public and private gatherings and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar. In Scandinavia, a festival called Yule and lasting up to twelve days was held in late December and early January. In this time people burnt (yule) logs and held parties. These customs have influenced how Christmas Day is celebrated today in the United States.
The Bible does not give a precise date for the birth of Jesus. It is also unclear when December 25 became associated with the birth of Jesus, although it may have been around two hundred years after his birth. We’re simply not sure. In the early centuries of Christianity, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus was not a cause for celebrations. The idea of turning this day into a celebration started in the early Middle Ages in Europe.
During the Reformation and up until the middle of the 1800s, Christmas was often not celebrated because partying and merry making was seen as unchristian. From about 1840, celebrating Christmas became more widespread. December 25 was finally declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Since then Christmas Day has become a steadily more important holiday.
A wide range of people and objects can represent Christmas. These include the baby Jesus, the Nativity scene with the Three Kings, but also Santa Claus, reindeer and elves. Common objects at this time of year are pine trees, holly, decorations, fairy lights, candles and presents.
Christmas Day is now truly a mix of religious celebration and commercial interests. The mistletoe is a commonly used Christmas decoration. By tradition, people who meet under a hanging mistletoe are obliged to kiss. Mistletoe has pagan associations. For example, the druids of Gaul regarded mistletoe growing on oak trees as sent from heaven.
Other common decorations associated with Christmas are holly and ivy – both are associated with Pagan festivals as it was customary to decorate with greenery for these festivals. Images of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, snowmen, and candy canes are seen in cards, posters, signs and other printed or marketing material associated with the Christmas celebrations. Images of baby Jesus, the Christmas star, and other symbols associated with the religious meaning of Christmas are also seen before and during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The Christmas Holiday we, in the United States celebrate, has truly grown and changed greatly and, although commercialized and popularized, it holds great importance to millions of people here and through-out the world where their very special regional customs also change the “look” of the special day.
Our Wishes from ServiceMark
We send out our special thanks to timeanddate.com whose material was used, in part, in the writing of this article. Your friends at ServiceMark Heating Cooling & Plumbing also send out our special Holiday greetings and well wishes to those who celebrate the Christmas Holiday, or enjoy Hanukkah or perhaps Kwanzaa. We wish all, those who celebrate this beginning of the new year – a happy, healthy and new year full of only the very best life can bring!