Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, 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.
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1. Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s mass”. It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131.
2. In addition to “Christmas”, the holiday has been known by various other names throughout its history. The Anglo-Saxons referred to the feast as “midwinter”, or, more rarely, as Nātiuiteð (from Latin nātīvitās below).
3. “Nativity”, meaning “birth”, is from Latin nātīvitās. In Old English, Gēola (Yule) referred to the period corresponding to December and January, which was eventually equated with Christian Christmas.
4. “Noel” (or “Nowel”) entered English in the late 14th century and is from the Old French noël or naël, itself ultimately from the Latin nātālis (diēs), “birth (day)”.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Even in the West, the January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380.
9. 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).
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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. Also Jehovas Witnesses reject Christmas celebration.
15. Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system.
16. The Germans made the first artificial Christmas trees out of dyed goose feathers.
17. Each year more than 3 billion Christmas cards are sent in the U.S. alone.
18. All the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas would equal 364 gifts.
19. The “true love” mentioned in the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” does not refer to a romantic couple, but the Catholic Church’s code for God. The person who receives the gifts represents someone who has accepted that code. For example, the “partridge in a pear tree” represents Christ. The “two turtledoves” represent the Old and New Testaments.
20. According to data analyzed from Facebook posts, two weeks before Christmas is one of the two most popular times for couples to break up. However, Christmas Day is the least favorite day for breakups.
21. Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzen, Comet, and Cupid. However, male reindeers shed their antlers around Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not male, but female or castrated.
22. In A.D. 350, Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed December 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ.
23. According to the Guinness world records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington.
24. The traditional three colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green has long been a symbol of life and rebirth; red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light as well as wealth and royalty.
25. Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates during the Christmas holiday are low. The highest rates are during the spring.
26. These evergreen branches became the foundation of our Christmas tree. Germans are thought to be the first to bring “Christmas trees” into their homes at the holidays and decorate them with cookies and lights.
27. The Christmas tree made its way to America in the 1830s but wasn’t popular until 1846, after Germany’s Prince Albert brought it to England when he married Queen Victoria. The two were sketched in front of a Christmas tree and the tradition instantly became popular. Royal fever was real even back then.
28. The well-known reason we give presents at Christmas is to symbolize the gifts given to baby Jesus by the three wise men. But it may also stem from the Saturnalia tradition that required revelers to offer up rituals to the gods.
29. Because of its roots in pagan festivals, Christmas was not immediately accepted by the religious. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Boston. You were fined if you were caught celebrating.
30. Santa Claus delivering presents comes from Holland’s celebration of St. Nicholas’ feast day on December 6. Children would leave shoes out the night before and, in the morning, would find little gifts that St. Nicholas would leave them.
31. And stockings come from this story: A poor man with three daughters couldn’t afford the dowry to have them married. One night, St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the man’s chimney so that his oldest daughter would be able to get married, and the bag fell into a stocking that was drying by the fire.
32. One of the reasons we leave milk and cookies for Santa is because Dutch kids would leave food and drink for St. Nicholas on his feast day.
33. And we leave carrots for Santa Claus’ reindeer because, in Norse mythology, people left hay and treats for Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir “in hopes the god would stop by their home during his Yule hunting adventures.” Dutch children adopted this tradition too, and would treats for St. Nick’s horse.
34. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs, who called the plant Cuetlaxochitl (“flower which wilts”). For the Aztecs, the plant’s brilliant red color symbolized purity, and they often used it medicinally to reduce fever. Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous, but holly berries are.
35. Christmas has its roots in pagan festivals such as Saturnalia (December 17-December 23), the Kalends (January 1 -5, the precursor to the Twelve Days of Christmas), and Deus Sol Invictus or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun (December 25).
36. The Christian church heartily disapproved of such celebrations and co-opted the pagans by declaring December 25 as Christ’s day of birth, though there is no evidence Christ was born on that day.
37. Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nikolas of Myra (also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna, and Nikolaos of Bari), who lived during the fourth century. Born in Patara (in modern-day Turkey), he is the world’s most popular non-Biblical saint, and artists have portrayed him more often than any other saint except Mary. He is the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City.
38. Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as stern, commanding, and holding a birch rod. He was more a symbol of discipline and punishment than the jolly, overweight elf children know today.
39. Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers.
Wassail is from the Old Norse ves heill, meaning “good health.”
40. Christmas stockings allegedly evolved from three sisters who were too poor to afford a marriage dowry and were, therefore, doomed to a life of prostitution. They were saved, however, when the wealthy Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna (the precursor to Santa Claus) crept down their chimney and generously filled their stockings with gold coins.
41. The Viking god Odin is one precursor to the modern Santa Claus. According to myth, Odin rode his flying horse, Sleipnir (a precursor to Santa’s reindeer), who had eight legs. In the winter, Odin gave out both gifts and punishments, and children would fill their boots or stockings with treats for Sleipnir.
42. Jingle Bells” was originally supposed to be a Thanksgiving song.
43. Boston church leaders tried to have the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” banned in the 1950s because they thought it “promoted physical intimacy.” Singer Jimmy Boyd had to fly to Boston and explain to them why it wasn’t obscene.
44. Μariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is considered to be the most popular Christmas song now. In the music video, Santa is played by Mariah’s then-husband, Tommy Mottola.
45. And the highest-grossing Christmas movie of all time is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Jim Carrey version.
46. The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples. At Christmastime, medieval actors would use apples to decorate paradise trees (usually fir trees) during “Paradise Plays,” which were plays depicting Adam and Eve’s creation and fall.
47. Commissioned by Sir Henry Cole (1808-1883), British illustrator John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) invented the first Christmas card in 1843.
48. Christmas purchases account for 1/6 of all retail sales in the U.S.
49. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are 2,106 million children under age 18 in the world. If there are on average 2.5 children per household, Santa would have to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve, traveling 221 million miles. To reach all 842 million stops, Santa would need to travel between houses in 2/10,000 second, which means he would need to accelerate 12.19 million miles (20.5 billion meters) per second on each stop. The force of this acceleration would reduce Santa to “chunky salsa.”
50. During the Christmas season, nearly 28 sets of LEGO are sold every second.
51. Many of the most popular Christmas songs, such as “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” were written or co-written by Jews.