Hark! The herald angels sing:
“Glory to the Newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.”
Every December the Christians feel wonderful and they look forward towards celebrating their biggest festival – Christmas! Most of us believe that Christmas is the occasion to worship Jesus Christ! But really was Christmas an age-old festival? Did the New Testament include the celebration of Christmas on 25th December? The answers when revealed might be shocking for many!
We practice customs with sincerity and joy but do we probe into the origin of those? Christmas has become a widespread phenomenon. It has become more of a fun and fashionable incident all over the world. People celebrate this festival with eagerness and joy whether Christian or not! But obviously deep-down we accept and believe that Christmas is the occasion of the Christians and it is connected to Lord Jesus.
The Christians observe Christmas day as a sacred day as they refer it to the birth anniversary of Jesus, the son of God, whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Although Christmas wasn’t celebrated as an occasion by Christians ages ago! A court case in 1990 at Ohio, announced that Christmas has no Christian origins!
The exact origin of assigning 25th December as the birth date of Jesus Christ is unknown. In fact, the New Testament gives no evidence about the date. It has been found that 25th December was first placed as the Christ’s date of birth by Sextus Julius Africanus and later it became popular. There is another explanation on the origin of Christmas. According to the Romans, the day of December 25 was the “day of the birth of the unconquered sun”, the fading away of winter and the revival of spring and summer! Later on, a connection was somehow created between the birth of the sun and the birth of the son of God.
The ancient church was at first, in strong opposition to observe the birthday of Jesus. As according to them the birthdays of Saints should be honoured on the days of their persecution. On the earlier days, the Church didn’t approve of the pagan tradition of celebrating birthdays.
Gradually Christmas celebrations started in the 9th century although it didn’t have equal significance as Good Friday or Easter, which were the major festivals for Christians.
There was and still have difference among churches in observing the Christmas. The Roman Catholic Churches start the mass at midnight while Protestant churches initiate the Christmas candlelight services on the late evening of 24th December. The Christmas carols have also become ever popular along with the readings of Christian Scriptures on the arrival of Christ.
Over the years several traditions have been added to Christmas day. Traditions like those of the Christmas tree, fir wreath and the myth of Santa Claus have all been discovered.
Origin of the Christmas tree: The ancient Romans had worshipped the trees in forests and this practice was adopted later on by decorating homes with Christmas trees on the occasion.
Origin of the Mistletoe: The Christian tradition of kissing under the mistletoe during the Christmas has probably originated from a Norse mythology. It is told that God Hoder murdered God Balder using a mistletoe arrow to win the woman named Nanna!
Origin of Santa Claus: Probably Santa Claus is the most amusing concept that has become an integral part of the Christmas festivity! Originally the tale about this very old man with white beards and moustaches, wearing a red coat and riding a sleigh driven by reindeers was told to entertain the children. He is said to carry a bag full of gifts that he delivers at every kid’s doorstep on the eve of Christmas! But the fable of Santa Claus has come from a monk named St. Nicholas. There are several stories about St. Nicholas and it is said that he was extremely kind and gave away all of his inherited riches to the poor and the needy! Eventually, Santa Claus has become the major temptation of Christmas!
Origin of the Christmas presents: In ancient Rome, Emperors forced their subjects to bring presents for them during the Saturnalia, held in the month of December and Kalends, celebrated in the month of January. The Catholic Church later recognized this as a Christmas ritual!
Most of these customs have been adopted in the modern age and there’s uncertainty on the precise dates of origin for these traditions!
Sending cards on Christmas and the popularising of the English carols are new additions to the Christmas festivity. Christmas has become a festival of giving and offering gifts to others. In most Western countries, they celebrate the birth of baby Jesus on the night of 24th December by exchanging presents among family and friends.
At present, the Eastern Orthodox Churches mark 25th December as the Christmas day. On the other hand, the Oriental Orthodox Churches celebrate the Christmas on 7th January based on the Gregorian calendar.
In history, we have also the reference to the cancellation of Christmas. When Oliver Cromwell ascended the throne of England in 1645, he cancelled Christmas as a holiday. Again when Charles II became the King, he revived Christmas holiday on the English calendar.
Those who had the puritan beliefs such as King Cromwell did not approve of the Christmas celebrations. Also, it can be seen that in early America, Christmas was not a festival for them. As a matter of fact, Christmas was declared as a holiday on 26th June 1870. Americans slowly changed the way of celebration and modified the religious festivity into a family celebration. Christmas has now evolved into a festival for everyone. Nowadays Christmas has become a celebration for both Christians and non- Christians likewise! People love the festive season of Christmas and exchanging presents among loved ones has become a common practice. Christmas has become a secular holiday for everyone!
People across the globe celebrate Christmas as a day of love, charity and service.