Christmas: Why Is It Celebrated on December 25?

"Regent Street Christmas Lights - Dec 2006" by Diliff - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons -
Christmas lights on Regent Street in London, December 2006. (Photo by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons)

Here are some things you may not have known about the history of Christmas.

Christmas is, of course, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In addition to being a religious holiday, it’s also a public holiday in many parts of the world and is celebrated by many non-Christians.

There is not much agreement on the actual month and date of Jesus’ birth, but in Western Christian churches it was being celebrated on December 25th by the early- to mid-Fourth century, and by Eastern Christian Churches about a century later. Some Eastern churches celebrate the holiday on January 7, which corresponds to December 25 on the Julian calendar.

Some believe that the date was chosen to Christianize older pagan festivals surrounding the solstice. Others believe that Jesus’ mother Mary was told of the Immaculate Conception on March 25, which is nine months before December 25.

In the early days of Christianity, the holiday was overshadowed by Epiphany, which celebrated the baptism of Jesus and the Magi visiting him bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Biblical scholars see the baptism of Jesus as one of the two historically certain facts about him, along with the crucifixion.

By the 1300s, Christmas was so important that there are historical records as to when and where notable people celebrated. Around this time caroling became popular, as well as gift exchanges, and the use of holly and other evergreens.

After the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans and Presbyterians frowned upon the celebration of Christmas as a Catholic invention. Other Protestant denominations, such as Anglicans and Lutherans continued to celebrate the holiday. In 1640, the Parliament of Scotland banned Christmas; it didn’t become a public holiday again there until 1958. In 1647, when the Puritans came to power in England, the holiday was banned there. It remained uncelebrated until the 1660 Restoration of King Charles II.

The Puritans in North America also disapproved of Christmas. It was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681, when it was reinstated by the English governor.

Christmas fell out of fashion throughout the United States after the American Revolution, as it was associated with the English. The celebration of Christmas wasn’t a tradition in all parts of America until around the time of the U.S. Civil War. In 1860, 14 states declared Christmas a legal holiday. In 1870, it was declared a federal holiday, around the same time the Christmas Tree become popular in the U.S. In the United Kingdom, the full celebration of Christmas didn’t become common until after World War II and the hard economic times that followed. Mail continued to be delivered on Christmas in the UK until 1961.

Our question, what are frankincense and myrrh?

Today is Children’s Day in several African nations, Constitution Day in Taiwan and Good Governance Day in India. It’s unofficially National Pumpkin Pie Day. It’s the birthday of physicist Isaac Newton, founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton, actor Humphrey Bogart, musician Jimmy Buffett and musician Bob James, who wrote the theme to the television series “Taxi.”


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