People send each other cards and give gifts to their families and friends. In homes and in stores, evergreen trees glitter with colorful lights and ornaments. Children look forward to seeing a jolly, white-bearded man in a red suit named Santa Claus.
It all can mean just one thing: It’s the season of Christmas, a holiday celebrated every year on December 25.
WHAT IS CHRISTMAS?
Christmas is a Christian holiday. It commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.
Christian churches hold religious services to celebrate Christmas. At midnight on Christmas Eve, most churches hold special candlelight services.
But Christmas is also a social and family holiday. It is a festival of goodwill, a time for family, friends, food, and gift-giving.
Many Americans share Christmas cookies, decorate their homes, and place presents under the family Christmas tree. Children often hang up stockings for Santa Claus to fill with small gifts. According to tradition, Santa arrives on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Presents are usually opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
THE ROOTS OF CHRISTMAS
No one knows exactly when Jesus Christ was born. For many years, local Christian churches celebrated Christ’s birth at different times. Then, in the ad 300s, the Roman Catholic Church set the birth date at December 25.
At that time, older non-Christian festivals were celebrated around Christmas. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival honoring their god of harvest and god of light. Other Europeans held festivals in mid-December marking the end of the harvest season. The Roman Catholic Church probably chose December 25 to give a Christian meaning to these older festivals.
The Orthodox Church, the Christian church in the east, also began using December 25 as the birth date of Jesus. But the Orthodox Church places more importance on celebrating Jesus’ baptism on January 6.
The tradition of the Christmas tree came to North America from Germany. Long ago, Germans began decorating evergreen trees in their homes at Christmas. They trimmed their trees with fruits, cookies, and lighted candles. German immigrants to the United States brought this custom with them in the 1800s.
Before Christian times, ancient people used evergreens for decoration and religious ceremonies. Because evergreens do not die in the winter, they came to symbolize eternal life.
Source: Microsoft ® Encarta