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What Are the Origins of Christmas Day?

Christmas is a well-known holiday in December, celebrated across the world by a large number of people. It is the most popular family holiday of the year where people share gifts and love with those they value. Most people think of Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25 by both the religious and the non-religious. Religious people see it as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus while others mainly observe it as the busiest time of the year fuelled by buying and exchanging gifts. Whether you are looking for time off work or Christmas presents from loved ones; either way, it is a vital holiday for both commercial and spiritual purposes.

The word Christmas originated from two words – Christes and Masses; which simply means ‘the Mass of Christ’. In the Catholic mass, this is a time where a priest reoffers the sacrifice of Christ on the cross during the Holy Communion.

A Pagan Christmas Day

The origin of Christmas dates back to when many ancient beliefs celebrated the change of seasons. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere the shortest day of the year – winter solstice – occurs around December 25. According to the Pagan tradition, this is a time to celebrate various forms of sinful behaviour. History suggests that during this period, animals were penned and most people stayed indoors.

The Roman pagans first introduced a week period of lawlessness from December 17-25, known as the holiday of Saturnalia. During this period, the courts were closed and people were not persecuted for injuring others or damaging property. The festival began when Roman authorities chose an enemy of the Roman people to represent the ‘Lord of Misrule’. Afterwards, each Roman community picked a victim to indulge with all forms of physical pleasure throughout that week. At the end of the festival on December 25th, the victim was murdered as a sign of destroying all the forces of darkness.

Based on this yearly celestial event, Saturnalia became a holiday for pagans to look forward to every year as an opportunity to practice their sinful ways. Coincidentally, the birth of the sun-god named Phyrigia was on December 25, adding more fuel to the end of the Saturnalia celebration in the ancient Balkans.

By the 4th century, Christianity had become dominant in the Roman Empire. Christian leaders in the Roman church imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to gain the loyalty of the pagan masses with it. They succeeded in converting large numbers of pagans to Christianity by promising them that they could celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians. In a means to succeed in keeping the pagans, the Roman Catholic Church then converted the last day of the Saturnalia into a Christian celebration by declaring December 25 as the day of the Lord’s birth. It was called the ‘Feast of the Nativity’. Since then, it has been the custom of western culture to celebrate Christmas on that day.

The Birth of Jesus Christ and Modern Christmaschristmas day

Most Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the birth of Jesus Christ – however, the exact birth date remains unknown. The Bible has no records of his birth or conception. The concept of celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 started from the second century A.D. At some point in this time, the Roman Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus birthday as December 25 – nine months after he believed Jesus was conceived. Despite the assumptions made by Africanus, this date was widely accepted.

At the time of Africanus’s assumption, the celebration of Saturnalia and the winter solstice was already celebrated on that day. This is one of the reported reasons why Christianity accepted the 25th December as Christmas Day, as a means of converting the Saturnalia to a Christian holiday with the intention of winning over the pagans.

The CareCo blog wishes all our readers a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year!