Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be God’s Son.
The name ‘Christmas’ is derived from the Christ’s Mass. (or Jesus). A Mass service (also known as Communion or Eucharist) is a moment for Christians to remember that Jesus died for us and then rose again. The only ceremony that could take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day) was the ‘Christ-Mass,’ therefore people had it at Midnight! As a result, we have the name Christ-Mass, which has been reduced to Christmas.
People all around the world, whether Christians or not, today celebrate Christmas. It’s a time when family and friends get together to celebrate their blessings. People, especially youngsters, enjoy Christmas because it is a time when they may give and receive gifts!
No one knows Jesus’ actual birthday! Why do we celebrate it on December 25th since the Bible doesn’t specify a date? There were a lot of debates among the early Christians over when it should be commemorated! Also, Jesus’ birth was most likely not in the year 1, but somewhere between 2 BCE/BC and 7 BCE/BC, possibly in 4 BCE/BC (there is no 0 — the years go from 1 BC/BCE to 1!).
Christmas was first observed on December 25th in the year 336, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). However, it was not a Roman state event at the time.
There are a variety of traditions and ideas as to why Christmas is observed on December 25th.
The day Mary was told she would have a very unique baby, Jesus (called the Annunciation) was on March 25th, according to early Christian tradition, and it is still honoured on that day today. The 25th of December is nine months after the 25th of March!
Some early Christians believed that the world was created on March 25th, as well as the day when Jesus died as an adult (Nisan 14 in the Jewish calendar), and that Jesus was conceived and died on the same day of the year.
The Winter Solstice is the day when the period between the sun rising and setting is the shortest. In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs on December 21st or 22nd. (The Summer Solstice occurs at this time in the Southern Hemisphere, whereas the Winter Solstice occurs in late June.)
To pagans, this indicated that the days would begin to get lighter and longer, while the nights would become shorter, signalling the start of a new season. People held a mid-winter party to commemorate the sun’s victory over winter’s darkness. Animals kept for food were typically killed at this time to avoid having to feed them throughout winter, and some liquids that had been brewing since the autumn/harvest would also be ready to consume.
As a result, it was a nice opportunity to host a party with food and drink before the remainder of the winter arrived. (We’re still having New Year’s Eve parties about this time!)
Yule is the name given to the period surrounding the Winter Solstice in Scandinavia and some other parts of northern Europe (although the word Yule only seems to date to about the year 300). Koleda is the name of the mid-winter festival in Eastern Europe.
Because Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, the early Christians believed that today was the appropriate time to commemorate Jesus’ birth. They also adopted several Winter Solstice customs, such as Holly, Mistletoe, and even Christmas Carols, and given them Christian meanings.
It is unknown what year Jesus was born. A monk named Dionysius Exiguus devised the current calendar system in the sixth century. He was actually attempting to devise a better method for determining when Easter should be observed, based on a new calendar that placed Jesus’ birth in the year 1. However, he made an arithmetic error and thereby miscalculated the likely year of Jesus’ birth!
The majority of experts today believe Jesus was born sometime between 2 and 7 BCE/BC, likely in 4 BCE/BC. Years were traditionally dated from the reigns of Roman Emperors before Dionysius’ revised calendars. From the 8th century, when the ‘Venerable Bede of Northumbria’ utilised it in his ‘new’ history book, the new calendar became more generally used!
So, everytime you celebrate Christmas, keep in mind that you’re commemorating a true event that occurred approximately 2000 years ago: God sent his Son into the world as a Christmas gift for everyone!
Around addition to Christmas and the Solstice, there are a number of additional events in late December. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, while some Africans and African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, which takes place from December 26th to January 1st.