Christmas is a yearly celebration honoring the birth of Jesus Christ that is celebrated by billions of people all over the world on December 25 as a religious and cultural holiday. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many nations. It is a religious festival for the majority of Christians and a cultural holiday for many non-Christians. It also plays a significant role in the holiday season that is centered on it.
Let’s find out more about the history of Christmas!
Early Christian writers proposed numerous dates for the celebration in response to the nativity scenes seen in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The gospels make no mention of a specific date, but early Christians associated Jesus with the Sun by referring to him as the “Sun of righteousness.” The winter solstice was observed by the Romans on December 25.
On December 25, AD 336, a Christmas celebration was first noted in Rome. December 25 was chosen as a holiday because it was the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar, it fell nine months after the vernal equinox on March 25, and it was a day associated with Jesus’ conception (celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation).
The fourth-century Arian debate included Christmas as a factor. After this debate was resolved, the holiday’s notoriety waned for a few centuries. When Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day in the year 800, the feast rose to prominence once more.
Christmas was outlawed in Puritan England because of beliefs that it was a Catholic invention and that it was a day for drunkenness and other bad behavior. When Puritan legislation was ruled to be invalid in England in 1660, it was reinstated as a legal holiday, but some people continued to hold it in low regard.
Christmas celebrations and services became commonplace in the early 19th century with the growth of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, which emphasized the significance of Christmas in Christianity and charitable giving, as well as other writers like Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and others who emphasized family, kids, kindness, gift-giving, and Santa Claus (for Irving), or Father Christmas (for Dickens).
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According to the “earliest church documents,” Christians started commemorating and celebrating the birth of the Lord in the second century. This “observance [that] sprang up organically from the authentic devotion of ordinary believers,” according to the archives.
The Chronograph of 354 recounts that a Christmas celebration took held in Rome eight days before the calends of January, despite the fact that Christmas was not included in the lists of holidays provided by the early Christian authors Irenaeus and Tertullian. In AD 336, during Pope Mark’s brief pontificate, this part was written.
Jesus’ birth was commemorated throughout the East on January 6 in conjunction with the Epiphany. The baptism of Jesus was the main focus of this celebration rather than his nativity.
After the pro-Arian Emperor Valens was killed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, Christmas was promoted throughout the East as a part of the resurgence of Orthodox Christianity. The feast was first celebrated in Constantinople in 379, John Chrysostom brought it to Antioch at the end of the fourth century, most likely in 388, and Alexandria the following century.
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According to the estimate, the March 25 Annunciation holiday, which commemorated Jesus’ conception, evolved into a celebration of the Incarnation. Then, Christmas was reckoned to be nine months away. French author Louis Duchesne put forth the calculation theory in 1889.
According to Luke 1:26 of the Bible, Mary was informed of her pregnancy when Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was in her sixth month of pregnancy.
The ecclesiastical festival was established in the seventh century and assigned to be observed on March 25. This date is also the customary date of the equinox and is nine months before Christmas. It had nothing to do with the Quartodeciman, which by this point had been forgotten.
Early Christians commemorated Jesus’ life on a day that is said to have been equal to Passover on the local calendar, which is 14 Nisan. This celebration is known as the Quartodeciman because Passover was observed on the 14th day of the month. On this day, Christians commemorated all the significant occasions in Christ’s life, particularly his passion.
Paul mentions Passover in his letter to the Corinthians, which was probably observed there in accordance with the local calendar. The date of the celebration of the passion is given as March 25 by Tertullian, who was a native of Latin-speaking North Africa. In 165, Good Friday was chosen as the new day for the Passion.
Though unconfirmed, the calculation theory is regarded as “a thoroughly viable hypothesis” in academia. Jesus was thought to have been conceived on March 25 since he died on March 25, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan.
It was a customary Jewish belief that great men were born and died on the same day, so lived a whole number of years, without fractions.
The nativity is commemorated on December 25 according to a verse in Hippolytus of Rome’s Commentary on the Prophet Daniel (204). Generally speaking, this passage is regarded as a late insertion. But another paragraph in the manuscript—one that is more likely to be genuine—identifies the passion as occurring on March 25.
In his universal history written in 221, Sextus Julius Africanus identified March 25 as the day of creation and the conception of Jesus. Based on solar symbolism and the equinox falling on March 25, this conclusion was drawn.
It is frequently asserted that this was the first occasion December 25 was identified as nativity because it implies a December birth. However, Africanus was not a widely read author, therefore it is unlikely that he chose the day of Christmas.
The early fourth-century work De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae, which is assigned to John Chrysostom, also made the claim that March 25 was the day that Jesus was conceived and crucified.
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Solstice Date Hypothesis.
The winter solstice actually took place on December 23 or 24, but in the Roman calendar, December 25 was designated as the date.
Saint Augustine outlined why this day was appropriate to commemorate Christ’s birth in a sermon from the latter part of the fourth century: “Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”
Many verses from the Bible were used to support the connection between Jesus and the Sun. Malachi’s prediction that “Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings” was interpreted as referring to Jesus.
More than one birthdate could be supported by such solar symbolism. The theory that creation began on March 25, the day of the spring equinox, was connected with the conception or birth of Jesus on March 28, the day of the creation of the sun in the Genesis account, in a book by an unknown author known as De Pascha Computus (243).
The date of Christmas may have been chosen to coincide with the solstice, according to Isaac Newton, who, ironically, was born on December 25.
However, Steven Hijmans of the University of Alberta asserts that “It is cosmic symbolism … which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the southern solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the northern solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception.”
History Of Religions Hypothesis.
According to the competing “History of Religions” theory, the Church chose December 25 as the day to usurp Roman celebrations in honor of the Sun god Sol Invictus.
Aurelian founded this cult around 274 AD. An unidentified date annotation made to a manuscript of a piece by the Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi from the 12th century contains an unambiguous expression of this viewpoint.
German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski said in 1743 that Christmas was a “paganization” that debased the real church because it was observed on December 25 to coincide with the Roman solar celebration Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.
On the other hand, it has also been asserted that the Emperor Aurelian, who established the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti in 274 as a pagan celebration of a date significant to Christians in Rome, did so in part as an effort to give the date a pagan importance.
The Roman feast day honoring Sol Invictus’ birthday was chosen by the Christians, according to Hermann Usener and others. According to modern scholar S. E. Hijmans, “while they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas.”
Additionally, Thomas J. Talley asserts that the Roman Emperor Aurelian instituted the Sol Invictus holiday on December 25 in an effort to compete with the Christian Church’s expanding practice of celebrating Christmas on that day first.
The Church of England Liturgical Commission believes that a position based on an old tradition, according to which the date of Christmas was established at nine months after March 25, the day of the spring equinox, on which the Annunciation was celebrated, has refuted the History of Religions hypothesis.
Hijmans has said that while the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas.
This is in reference to a December religious feast of the deified Sun (Sol), as opposed to a solstice feast of the birth (or rebirth) of the astronomical sun.
Although the Emperor Aurelian probably dedicated a temple to the sun god on the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) on the “Birthday of the Invincible Sun” on December 25, Thomas Talley has demonstrated that the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice or any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect.
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Epiphany, which in western Christianity concentrated on the visit of the magi, eclipsed Christmas Day in the Early Middle Ages. But Christmas-related festivals predominated the medieval calendar. The forty days leading up to Christmas are now referred to as Advent and are known as the “forty days of St. Martin” (which started on November 11, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours).
Advent in Italy was associated with previous Saturnalian customs. These customs were once more carried over to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide, or Twelve Holy Days, which take place from December 25 to January 5 and are marked on the liturgical calendars. This transition occurred around the 12th century.
After Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800, the importance of Christmas Day gradually grew. Christmas in 855 saw the inauguration of King Edmund the Martyr, and Christmas Day in 1066 saw the coronation of King William I of England.
By the High Middle Ages, Christmas had gained such notoriety that chroniclers often recorded the locations of various magnates’ celebrations. In 1377, 28 oxen and 300 lambs were consumed at a Christmas feast sponsored by King Richard II of England. A typical element of medieval Christmas feasts was the Yule boar.
Caroling, which was first performed by a group of singer-dancers, also gained popularity. A lead singer and a circle of dancers served as the chorus for the group.
Caroling was decried as obscene by a number of authors of the era, suggesting that the disorderly customs of Saturnalia and Yule may have persisted in this manner. Alcoholism, promiscuity, and gambling were all major components of the festival’s “misrule” theme.
On New Year’s Day, gifts were exchanged in England, and a special Christmas ale was served.
Ivy, holly, and other evergreens were used during the public celebration of Christmas that took place during the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, Christmas gifts were typically sent between parties who had legal obligations, such as a tenant and a landlord.
By the 17th century, opulent banquets, elaborate masques, and pageants were common over the Christmas season in England due to the annual overindulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sports, and card games. King James I mandated in 1607 that a play be performed on Christmas Eve and that the court partake in sports.
Many Protestants changed the gift-giver to the Christ Child or Christkindl during the Reformation in 16th–17th century Europe. They also altered the day of gift-giving from December 6 to Christmas Eve.