Christmas is the celebration to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. People around the world irrespective of their religion celebrate this event with great enthusiasm. In many countries across the world, this day is considered as a civil holiday. In United States, this day is a federal holiday since 1870.
About the Year of Birth of Jesus Christ
There is no sufficient information available about the exact year of birth of Jesus Christ in 'The New Testament'. According to the estimation of some historians, the year may be between 7 and 2 BC when Jesus was born. The Western Christian Church selected 25th December as the occasion for Christmas celebration. The Armenian Apostolic Church and Armenia celebrate Christmas on January 6. This is the original date of its celebration according to the Eastern Christianity.
Biblical Description about the Birth of Jesus
The name 'Christmas' originated from the terms “Christ's Mass”. According to the biblical description, Jesus was born as the son of Mary and Joseph in a stable of Bethlehem, Palestine. At the time of his birth, he was surrounded by farm animals. The 'Bible' states that after his birth, Mary laid Jesus in a container from which cattle or horses used to feed.
Yule Festival by Pagans
The pagans of the Northern Hemisphere in ancient times believed that on the last day of winter, the baby Sun God was born to the Great Mother Goddess. They named this occasion as Yule which they celebrated with great vivacity.
Saturnalia Festival by Ancient Romans
The Romans in ancient era used to celebrate Yule festival to honour Saturnus and Mithras, the God of harvest and the God of light respectively. Through celebrating this occasion, they first started the holidays of Saturnalia, a period of lawlessness which continued from December 17 to December 25. As per Roman law, none will get punishment for causing injury to other people or damaging other's property during this time span. As part of this celebration, each Roman community used to choose a victim whom they impelled to indulge in various types of pleasures during this period. At the end of the celebration on December 25, they used to terminate the life of that victim in the hope of eradicating the evil forces from the earth.
Pope Julius I and December 25
During this festival of Romans, the Christians used to decorate their homes properly to avoid ill-treatment for lawlessness. Later, the Christians included this festival into their religion, though the Christian churches did not celebrate this event at that time. Telesphorus, the second Bishop of Rome from 125 AD to 136 AD, ordered to postpone church services during this festival. In 320 AD, Pope Julius I proclaimed December 25 as the official birth date of Jesus.
Constantine the Great and December 25
In 325 AD, the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great announced this particular date as a ceremonial occasion. But Christians did not acknowledge that date even after the Emperor's proclamation.
Contribution of Charles Dickens in Popularising Christmas
In 1834, a week before Christmas, notable British author Charles Dickens published 'A Christmas Carol' in which he shared his view about the importance of Christmas celebration. Due to the popularity of this book, the churches and the governments across the world accepted the significance of Christmas.
Playing Christmas music and carol, exchanging gifts and cards, decorating churches and houses with Christmas trees and lights and arrangement of foods and beverages are parts of the celebration of Christmas. During this day, people attend well decorated churches to listen to the recitals from the Gospels of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew. Though delivering sermons, priests speak about the importance of maintaining peace to pave the way for prosperity in future.
Ancient pagans and Romans had crucial role in the history of Christmas. To know in detail about the background of this festival, take a look at this article.