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The Virgin Mary and the Christ child.
Weihnachtsabend in der Dachstube von Robert Beyschlag (1838-1903).jpg

Christmas is a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

The date is arguably not the actual birth date of Jesus (there is some debate on this point) and the ancient Church may have initially chosen it to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived, or the date of the winter solstice (German: Wintersonnenwende).[1]


German Christmas szene.jpg
Christmas tree ornaments with Irminsul
Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, c. 1870

The English term Christmas (“mass on Christ’s day”) is essentially the celebration of the coming and birth of Christ by the Virgin Mary following the Immaculate Conception by God. The birth took place in a stone cave used as a stable in Bethlehem, Palestine. Christians still pack their churches over this period (and Easter) even though they might not attend church otherwise. In most European countries Christmas Day (December 25th) is a public holiday and most (in some countries, all) commercial activities are closed down.

"Since the early 20th century, Christmas has also been a secular family holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians alike, devoid of Christian elements, and marked by an increasingly elaborate exchange of gifts. In this secular Christmas celebration, a mythical figure named Santa Claus plays the pivotal role."[2]


Main article: Yule

An earlier term was Yule, which may originally have referred to a pre-Christian festival around the winter solstice.

Yule was an important 12-day festival of the Germanic peoples, which underwent Christianised reformulation, resulting in the term 'Christmastide'. Some present-day Christmas customs and traditions such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others may have connections to ancient pagan Yule traditions.

Mōdraniht, an event focused on collective female beings attested by Bede as having occurred among the pagan Anglo-Saxons on what is now Christmas Eve, has been seen as further evidence of a fertility event during the Yule period.


Jews rejected, ridiculed and murdered Christ. Therefore Christmas has no meaning for them.

Christmas Trees

Main article: Christmas tree
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles. Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy. In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree had arrived. By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling. The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.[3]

Santa Claus

The role model for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, whose legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus as he is known today. It is also said the Germanic or paganGerman: Sunnwendmann” (Solstice man) may have been the model.

When German American Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902) drew Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1862, Santa was a small elflike figure who supported the Union.

Coca-Cola did not create the legend of Santa Claus. But Coca-Cola advertising did play a big role in shaping the jolly character we know today. Before 1931, there were many different depictions of Santa Claus around the world, including a tall gaunt man and an elf —there was even a scary Claus. But in 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements. Those paintings established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes and laughter lines. Sundblom drew inspiration from an 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” —commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”[4]

Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses sometimes called the Festival of Turnover. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

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  1. In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people, especially Germanics and Japan, believed that the sun was a God and that winter came every year because the Sun God had become sick and weak. The Europeans celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the Sun God would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the Sun God was strong and summer would return.
  2. Christmas
  3. History of Christmas Trees,, 2009
  4. Did Coca-Cola create Santa Claus?