On December 25, Christians around the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ by celebrating Christmas. The English term Christmas (which means “mass on Christ’s day“) is of fairly recent origin.
The earlier term Yule might have been derived from the Germanic j?l or the Anglo-Saxon ge?l, which referred to the feast of the winter solstice.
For two millennia, people around the world have been observing Christmas whose traditions and practices are both religious and secular in nature.
Some popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, and having a get together with family and friends. For children, Christmas can mean a seemingly endless wait for Santa Claus to come bearing gifts.
Christmas: A brief history
For long, the middle of winter has marked a time of celebration around the world. The roots of celebrating Christmas can be traced back to the winter solstice. Many people were known to rejoice during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of the year, most cattle was slaughtered so that it would not have to be fed during the winter. It was the only time of year when many people had a supply of fresh meat. Additionally, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.
By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced.
Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25?
For the first three centuries after Christianity came into existence, Jesus Christ’s birth wasn’t celebrated at all. The first official mention of December 25 as a holiday honouring Christ’s birthday appears in an early Roman calendar from 336 AD. However, we might never know when Jesus was actually born. The Bible does not mention his exact date of birth, and the Nativity story contains conflicting clues.
When church officials settled on December 25 at the end of the third century, they likely wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honouring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light).
That made it easier to convince Rome’s pagan subjects to accept Christianity as the empire’s official religion. As Christianity began to spread, the celebration of Christmas spread throughout the Western world over the next several centuries, which is why people around the world continue to celebrate Christmas on December 25.
How is Christmas celebrated around the world?
Christmas is celebrated in many ways around the world. It did not become a federal holiday in the US until 1870.
When the Puritans took over England in 1645, they canceled Christmas to do away with cultural traditions. The holiday was restored when Charles II came into power in 1649.
In America, the holiday was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681, and anyone who was caught celebrating the holiday was fined. Christmas was also not celebrated after the American Revolution, in an attempt to get rid of English customs.
Here’s how Christmas is celebrated around the world:
In the Philippines, on the Saturday before Christmas, the city of San Fernando holds its annual Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu). The tradition began in 1904, and now there are eleven villages in the area that participate in the celebration by building the best and most elaborate lantern.
Sweden celebrates Christmas by having a 42.6-foot goat. The concept of the Gävle Goat was created in 1966 and it was supposed to draw people to the restaurants and shops nearby. Since its inception, the goat, which is made out of straw and weighs more than 7,000 pounds, has become a special holiday tradition.
Every year on December 6, Austria hold its annual Krampus and Perchten Parades in Salzburg. Krampus is a devil-like creature who travels with Santa Claus on December 6, looking for children who weren’t good.
The Perchten are folk creatures who wear scary masks and carry bells to help scare away the winter. During the parades, people wear Krampus and Perchten masks.
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, there are 13 mischievous troll-like characters who cause mayhem across Iceland. Known as the Yule Lads, these characters visit children across the country.
For the nights of yuletide, children place their cleanest shoes next to a window for a different Yule Lad to leave gifts each night for the good ones, while the naughty ones get rotten potatoes. The Yule Lads dress in traditional Icelandic clothes and cause trouble during the nights leading up to Christmas.
In Norway, a rather unusual tradition is observed on Christmas Eve. The people of Norway hide their brooms in a centuries-old tradition where it was believed witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. Even today, Norwegians hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius