Origins of Christmas
Tradition and custom
Christmas is the time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The name "Christmas" literally comes from the early English phrase, "Christes Masse" which means the Mass of Christ. While the actual date of Jesus' birth remains a mystery, Christians in many countries observe it on the 25 th of December. The birth of Jesus is described in the first couple of chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament.
Why December 25th?
There were competing groups of early Christian believers who felt that Jesus' birth and his ascendancy into divinity may have been on two different occasions.
Before the fourth century, early followers of Jesus did not have a festival for His birth, fearing that it might be interpreted to place him on par with King Pharaoh. Around the third century, many believed that Jesus' spiritual and physical birth occurred on the same day, January 6th which is the feast of Epiphany.
Eventually, December 25th was finally selected when St. Cyril of Jerusalem requested that Pope Julius I settle the matter definitively. That date however, was likely selected to coincide with existing pagan holidays. It made converting the pagans to Christianity that much easier.
Of those pagan holidays, three are noteworthy. In ancient Egypt , the Feast of Horus (god of the sky) was celebrated on December 25 th with much eating, drinking, dancing and gift-giving. In ancient Rome , the Romans held their own December festival, Saturnalia, in honor of the God of agriculture/harvest, Saturn. In northern Europe, particularly in the areas of current-day Germany , the Gauls celebrated the rebirth of the sun God Mithras during the winter solstice. The Celts and Druids of pre-Christian Britain also celebrated the winter solstice, honoring the ascension of the Oak King and the return of daylight.
Christmas or Xmas?
Many people feel that 'Xmas' is a secular substitute for Christmas. Some feel that it takes the "Christ" out of Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Greek letter X represents the first letters of Christ's name (Ch). Therefore, X was taken to represent the word "Christ" in the early Christian Church.