Definition of Christmas: Encyclopedia Britannica
Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017


Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


Christmas

(from Old English Cristes maesse, "Christ's mass"), Christian festival celebrated on December 25, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a popular secular holiday.

According to a Roman almanac, the Christian festival of Christmas was celebrated in Rome by AD 336. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, however, a festival on January 6 commemorated the manifestation of God in both the birth and the baptism of Jesus, except in Jerusalem, where only the birth was celebrated. During the 4th century the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25 was gradually adopted by most Eastern churches. In Jerusalem, opposition to Christmas lasted longer, but it was subsequently accepted. In the Armenian Church, a Christmas on December 25 was never accepted; Christ's birth is celebrated on January 6. After Christmas was established in the East, the baptism of Jesus was celebrated on Epiphany, January 6. In the West, however, Epiphany was the day on which the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus was celebrated.

The reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains uncertain, but most probably the reason is that early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the "birthday of the unconquered sun" (natalis solis invicti); this festival celebrated the winter solstice, when the days again begin to lengthen and the sun begins to climb higher in the sky. The traditional customs connected with Christmas have accordingly developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of the celebration of the birth of Christ with the pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter.

In the Roman world the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchange of gifts. December 25 was also regarded as the birth date of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. To these observances were added the German and Celtic Yule rites when the Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain, and central Europe. Food and good fellowship, the Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees, and gifts and greetings all commemorated different aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights, symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always been associated with the winter festival, both pagan and Christian. Since the European Middle Ages, evergreens, as symbols of survival, have been associated with Christmas. Christmas is traditionally regarded as the festival of the family and of children, under the name of whose patron, Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, presents are exchanged in many countries


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