For other uses, see Christmas (disambiguation).
"Christmas Day" redirects here. For other uses, see Christmas Day (disambiguation).
For Christmas traditions worldwide, see Christmas traditions.
A depiction of the Nativity of Jesus with a Christmas tree backdrop
|Also called||Noël, Nativity, Xmas, Yule|
|Observed by||Christians, many non-Christians|
|Significance||Commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus|
|Celebrations||Gift-giving, family and other social gatherings, symbolic decoration, feasting etc.|
|Related to||Christmastide, Christmas Eve, Advent, Annunciation, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, Nativity Fast, Nativity of Christ, Yule, St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day|
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christianliturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season centered around it.
The traditional Christmas narrative, the Nativity of Jesus, delineated in the New Testament says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was soon born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then further disseminated the information.
Although the month and date of Jesus' birth are unknown, by the early-to-mid fourth century the Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25, a date that was later adopted in the East. Today, most Christians celebrate on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, which has been adopted almost universally in the civil calendars used in countries throughout the world. However, some Eastern Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to January 7 in the Gregorian calendar, the day after the Western Christian Church celebrates the Epiphany. This is not a disagreement over the date of Christmas as such, but rather a preference of which calendar should be used to determine the day that is December 25. Moreover, for Christians, the belief that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity, rather than the exact birth date, is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas.
The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, viewing a Nativity play, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.
"Christmas" is a shortened form of "Christ's mass". It is derived from the Middle EnglishCristemasse, which is from Old EnglishCrīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131.Crīst (genitiveCrīstes) is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of HebrewMāšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), "Messiah", meaning "anointed"; and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist.
The form Christenmas was also historically used, but is now considered archaic and dialectal; it derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, literally "Christian mass".Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), "Christ", though numerous style guides discourage its use; it has precedent in Middle English Χρ̄es masse (where "Χρ̄" is an abbreviation for Χριστός).
In addition to "Christmas", the holiday has been known by various other names throughout its history. The Anglo-Saxons referred to the feast as "midwinter", or, more rarely, as Nātiuiteð (from Latinnātīvitās below). "Nativity", meaning "birth", is from Latin nātīvitās. In Old English, Gēola (Yule) referred to the period corresponding to December and January, which was eventually equated with Christian Christmas. "Noel" (or "Nowel") entered English in the late 14th century and is from the Old French noël or naël, itself ultimately from the Latin nātālis (diēs) meaning "birth (day)".
Main article: Nativity of Jesus
The canonical gospels of Luke and Matthew both describe Jesus as being born in Bethlehem in Judea, to a virgin mother. In the Gospel of Luke account, Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, and Jesus is born there and laid in a manger. It says that angels proclaimed him a savior for all people, and shepherds came to adore him.
In the Matthew account, magi follow a star to Bethlehem to bring gifts to Jesus, born the king of the Jews. King Herod orders the massacre of all the boys less than two years old in Bethlehem, but the family flees to Egypt and later settles in Nazareth.
The Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke are prominent in the gospels and early Christian writers suggested various dates for the anniversary. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome in 336. Christmas played a role in the Arian controversy of the fourth century. In the early Middle Ages, it was overshadowed by Epiphany. The feast regained prominence after 800, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day.
Associating it with drunkenness and other misbehavior, the Puritans banned Christmas in the 17th century. It was restored as a legal holiday in 1660, but remained disreputable. In the early 19th century, Christmas was revived with the start of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church.
Charles Dickens and other writers reinvented the holiday by emphasizing Christmas as a time for family, religion, gift-giving, and social reconciliation as opposed to the revelry that had been common historically.
Choice of December 25 date
In the 3rd century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote:
|“||There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20] … Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].||”|
In other writing of this time, May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17, and November 20 are all suggested. Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar; it was about nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox and a date linked to the conception of Jesus.
December 25 was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. Jesus chose to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons, according to an early Christmas sermon by Augustine: "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."
Linking Jesus to the Sun was supported by various Biblical passages. Jesus was considered to be the "Sun of righteousness" prophesied by Malachi: "Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings." John describes Jesus as "the light of the world."
Such solar symbolism could support more than one date of birth. An anonymous work known as De Pascha Computus (243) linked the idea that creation began at the spring equinox, on March 25, with the conception or birth (the word nascor can mean either) of Jesus on March 28, the day of the creation of the sun in the Genesis account. One translation reads: "O the splendid and divine providence of the Lord, that on that day, the very day, on which the sun was made, March 28, a Wednesday, Christ should be born.
In the 17th century, Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the solstice.
According to Steven Hijmans of the University of Alberta, "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."
The Calculation hypothesis suggests that an earlier holiday held on March 25 became associated with the Incarnation. Modern scholars refer to this feast as the Quartodecimal. Christmas was then calculated as nine months later. The Calculation hypothesis was proposed by French writer Louis Duchesne in 1889. In modern times, March 25 is celebrated as Annunciation. This holiday was created in the seventh century and was assigned to a date that is nine months before Christmas, in addition to being the traditional date of the equinox. It is unrelated to the Quartodecimal, which had been forgotten by this time.
Early Christians celebrated the life of Jesus on a date considered equivalent to 14 Nisan (Passover) on the local calendar. Because Passover was held on the 14th of the month, this feast is referred to as the Quartodecimal. All the major events of Christ's life, especially the passion, were celebrated on this date. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions Passover, presumably celebrated according to the local calendar in Corinth. Tertullian (d. 220), who lived in Latin-speaking North Africa, gives the date of passion celebration as March 25. The date of the passion was moved to Good Friday in 165 when Pope Soter created Easter by reassigning the Resurrection to a Sunday. According to the Calculation hypothesis, celebration of the quartodecimal continued in some areas and the feast became associated with Incarnation.
The Calculation hypothesis is considered academically to be "a thoroughly viable hypothesis", though not certain. It was a traditional Jewish belief that great men lived a whole number of years, without fractions, so that Jesus was considered to have been conceived on March 25, as he died on March 25, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan. A passage in Commentary on the Prophet Daniel (204) by Hippolytus of Rome identifies December 25 as the date of the nativity. This passage is generally considered a late interpellation. But the manuscript includes another passage, one that is more likely to be authentic, that gives the passion as March 25.
In 221, Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) gave March 25 as the day of creation and of the conception of Jesus in his universal history. This conclusion was based on solar symbolism, with March 25 the date of the equinox. As this implies a birth in December, it is sometimes claimed to be the earliest identification of December 25 as the nativity. However, Africanus was not such an influential writer that it is likely he determined the date of Christmas.
The tractate De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae, falsely attributed to John Chrysostom, also argued that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year and calculated this as March 25. This anonymous tract also states: "But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December ... the eight before the calends of January [25 December] ..., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord...? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice."
History of religions hypothesis
The rival "History of Religions" hypothesis suggests that the Church selected December 25 date to appropriate festivities held by the Romans in honor of the Sun god Sol Invictus. This feast was established by Aurelian in 274. An explicit expression of this theory appears in an annotation of uncertain date added to a manuscript of a work by 12th-century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi. The scribe who added it wrote:
"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." 
In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. It has been argued that, on the contrary, the Emperor Aurelian, who in 274 instituted the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, did so partly as an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already important for Christians in Rome.
Hermann Usener and others proposed that the Christians chose this day because it was the Roman feast celebrating the birthday of Sol Invictus. Modern scholar S. E. Hijmans, however, states that "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." Moreover, Thomas J. Talley holds that the Roman Emperor Aurelian placed a festival of Sol Invictus on December 25 in order to compete with the growing rate of the Christian Church, which had already been celebrating Christmas on that date first. In the judgement of the Church of England Liturgical Commission, the History of Religions hypothesis has been challenged by a view based on an old tradition, according to which the date of Christmas was fixed at nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox, on which the Annunciation was celebrated.
With regard to a December religious feast of the deified Sun (Sol), as distinct from a solstice feast of the birth (or rebirth) of the astronomical sun, one scholar has commented 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". "Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian's dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) probably took place on the 'Birthday of the Invincible Sun' on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect." The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought remarks on the uncertainty about the order of precedence between the religious celebrations of the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and of the birthday of Jesus, stating that the hypothesis that December 25 was chosen for celebrating the birth of Jesus on the basis of the belief that his conception occurred on March 25 "potentially establishes 25 December as a Christian festival before Aurelian's decree, which, when promulgated, might have provided for the Christian feast both opportunity and challenge".
Introduction of feast
As Christmas was unknown to the early Christian writers, it must have been introduced sometime after 300. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts. In 245, Origen of Alexandria, writing about Leviticus 12:1–8, commented that Scripture mentions only sinners as celebrating their birthdays, namely Pharaoh, who then had his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20–22), and Herod, who then had John the Baptist beheaded (Mark 6:21–27), and mentions saints as cursing the day of their birth, namely Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14–15) and Job (Job 3:1–16). In 303, Arnobius still ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, a passage cited as evidence that Arnobius was unaware of any nativity celebration. But since Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth "as God" but "as man", this does not necessarily show that Christmas was not a feast at this time.
The earliest known Christmas celebration is recorded in a fourth-century manuscript compiled in Rome. This manuscript is thought to record a celebration that occurred in 336. It was prepared privately for Furius Dionysius Filocalus, a Roman aristocrat, in 354. The reference in question states, "VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ" translated as "8 Kalends January[a] Birth of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea." This reference is in a section of the manuscript that was copied from earlier source material. The document also contains the earliest known reference to the feast of Sol Invictus. The fact the Donatists of North Africa celebrated Christmas suggests that the feast was established by the time that church was created in 311.
In Eastern Christianity the birth of Jesus was celebrated in connection with the Epiphany on January 6, which however emphasized celebration of the baptism of Jesus. Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Nicene Christianity following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced at Constantinople in 379, in Antioch by John Chrysostom towards the end of the fourth century, probably in 388, and in Alexandria only in the following century. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400. Even in the West, January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380.
Relation to concurrent celebrations
Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus' birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity. These elements, including the Yule log from Yule and gift giving from Saturnalia, became syncretized into Christmas over the centuries. The prevailing atmosphere of Christmas has also continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a sometimes raucous, drunken, carnival-like state in the Middle Ages, to a tamer family-oriented and children-centered theme introduced in a 19th-century transformation. In fact, the celebration of Christmas was banned on more than one occasion within certain Protestant groups, such as the Puritans, due to concerns that it was too pagan or unbiblical.Jehovah's Witnesses also reject the celebration of Christmas.
Prior to and through the early Christian centuries, winter festivals—especially those centered on the winter solstice—were the most popular of the year in many European pagan cultures. Reasons included the fact that less agricultural work needed to be done during the winter, as well as an expectation of better weather as spring approached. Many modern Christmas customs have been directly influenced by such festivals, including:
- Gift-giving and merrymaking from the Roman Saturnalia,
- Greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year, and
- Yule logs and various foods from Germanic feasts.
The Egyptian deity Horus, son to goddess Isis, was celebrated at the winter solstice. Horus was often depicted being fed by his mother, which also influenced the symbolism of the Virgin Mary with baby Christ.
The pre-Christian Germanic peoples—including the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse—celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period, yielding modern English yule, today used as a synonym for Christmas. In Germanic language-speaking areas, numerous elements of modern Christmas folk custom and iconography stem from Yule, including the Yule log, Yule boar, and the Yule goat. Often leading a ghostly procession through the sky (the Wild Hunt), the long-bearded god Odin is referred to as "the Yule one" and "Yule father" in Old Norse texts, while other gods are referred to as "Yule beings".
In eastern Europe also, old pagan traditions were incorporated into Christmas celebrations, an example being the Koleda, which was incorporated into the Christmas carol.
In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the magi. But the medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin" (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours), now known as Advent. In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent. Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days.
The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.
By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form. "Misrule"—drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling—was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day, and there was special Christmas ale.
Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy, holly, and other evergreens. Christmas gift-giving during the Middle Ages was usually between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. The annual indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, and card playing escalated in England, and by the 17th century the Christmas season featured lavish dinners, elaborate masques, and pageants. In 1607, King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. It was during the Reformation in 16th–17th-century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.
Reformation to the 18th century
Following the Protestant Reformation, many of the new denominations, including the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church, continued to celebrate Christmas. In 1629, the Anglican poet John Milton penned On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, a poem that has since been read by many during Christmastide. Donald Heinz, a professor at California State University, states that Martin Luther "inaugurated a period in which Germany would produce a unique culture of Christmas, much copied in North America." Among the congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church, Christmas was celebrated as one of the principal evangelical feasts.
However, in 17th century England, some groups such as the Puritans, strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery" or the "rags of the Beast". In contrast, the established Anglican Church "pressed for a more elaborate observance of feasts, penitential seasons, and saints' days. The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglican party and the Puritan party." The Catholic Church also responded, promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I during the English Civil War, England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647.
Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans. The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", old Father Christmas and carol singing.
The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many Calvinist clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. As such, in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland discouraged the observance of Christmas, and though James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, attendance at church was scant. The Parliament of Scotland officially abolished the observance of Christmas in 1640, claiming that the church had been "purged of all superstitious observation of days". It was not until 1958 that Christmas again became a Scottish public holiday.
Following the Restoration of Charles II, Poor Robin's Almanack contained the lines: "Now thanks to God for Charles return, / Whose absence made old Christmas mourn. / For then we scarcely did it know, / Whether it Christmas were or no." The diary of James Woodforde, from the latter half of the 18th century, details the observance of Christmas and celebrations associated with the season over a number of years.
In Colonial America, the Pilgrims of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. The Plymouth Pilgrims put their loathing for the day into practice in 1620 when they spent their first Christmas Day in the New World working – thus demonstrating their complete contempt for the day. Non-Puritans in New England deplored the loss of the holidays enjoyed by the laboring classes in England. Christmas observance was outlawed in Boston in 1659. The ban by the Puritans was revoked in 1681 by English governor Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.
At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. Pennsylvania German Settlers, pre-eminently the Moravian settlers of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Lititz in Pennsylvania and the Wachovia Settlements in North Carolina, were enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas. The Moravians in Bethlehem had the first Christmas trees in America as well as the first Nativity Scenes. Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom.George Washington attacked Hessian (German) mercenaries on the day after Christmas during the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, Christmas being much more popular in Germany than in America at this time.
With the atheistic Cult of Reason in power during the era of Revolutionary France, Christian Christmas religious services were banned and the three kings cake was renamed the "equality cake" under anticlerical government policies.
In the UK, Christmas Day became a bank holiday in 1834, Boxing Day was added in 1871.
In the early-19th century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the "spirit" of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Its instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion.
Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, linking "worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation." Superimposing his humanitarian vision of the holiday, in what has been termed "Carol Philosophy", Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. A prominent phrase from the tale, "Merry Christmas", was popularized following the appearance of the story. This coincided with the appearance of the Oxford Movement and the growth of Anglo-Catholicism, which led a revival in traditional rituals and religious observances.
The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with "Bah! Humbug!" dismissive of the festive spirit. In 1843, the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole. The revival of the Christmas Carol began with William Sandys's "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" (1833), with the first appearance in print of "The First Noel", "I Saw Three Ships", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", popularized in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. In 1832, the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it. After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, by 1841 the custom became more widespread throughout Britain.
An image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle created a sensation when it was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848. A modified version of this image was published in the United States in 1850. By the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America.
In America, interest in Christmas had been revived in the 1820s by several short stories by Washington Irving which appear in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. and "Old Christmas". Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned, and he used the tract Vindication of Christmas (1652) of Old English Christmas traditions, that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas). The poem helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. This also started the cultural conflict between the holiday's spiritual significance and its associated commercialism that some see as corrupting the holiday. In her 1850 book The First Christmas in New England, Harriet Beecher Stowe includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree.
While the celebration of Christmas was not yet customary in some regions in the U.S., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow detected "a transition state about Christmas here in New England" in 1856. "The old puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so." In Reading, Pennsylvania, a newspaper remarked in 1861, "Even our presbyterian friends who have hitherto steadfastly ignored Christmas—threw open their church doors and assembled in force to celebrate the anniversary of the Savior's birth."
The First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois, "although of genuine Puritan stock", was 'preparing for a grand Christmas jubilee', a news correspondent reported in 1864. By 1860, fourteen states including several from New England had adopted Christmas as a legal holiday. In 1875, Louis Prang introduced the Christmas card to Americans. He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card". On June 28, 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States federal holiday.
Up to the 1950s, in the UK, many Christmas customs were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families. The mass of the population had not adopted many of the Christmas rituals that later became general. The Christmas tree was rare. Christmas dinner might be beef—certainly not turkey. In their stockings children might get an apple, orange and sweets. Full celebration of a family Christmas with all the trimmings only became widespread with increased prosperity from the 1950s. National papers were published on Christmas Day until 1912. Post was still delivered on Christmas Day until 1961. League football matches continued in Scotland until the 1970s while in England they ceased at the end of the 1950s.
Under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, after its foundation in 1917, Christmas celebrations—along with other Christian holidays—were prohibited in public. During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the League of Militant Atheists encouraged school pupils to campaign against Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, as well as other Christian holidays, including Easter; the League established an antireligious holiday to be the 31st of each month as a replacement. At the height of this persecution, in 1929, on Christmas Day, children in Moscow were encouraged to spit on crucifixes as a protest against the holiday. It was not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the persecution ended and Orthodox Christmas became a state holiday again for the first time in Russia after seven decades.
European History Professor Joseph Perry wrote that likewise, in Nazi Germany, "because Nazi ideologues saw organized religion as an enemy of the totalitarian state, propagandists sought to deemphasize—or eliminate altogether—the Christian aspects of the holiday" and that "Propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime's racial ideologies."
As Christmas celebrations began to be held around the world even outside traditional Christian cultures in the 20th century, some Muslim-majority countries have banned the practice of Christmas, claiming it undermines Islam.
Customs and traditions
Main article: Christmas traditions
Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In some non-Christian areas, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong); in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Countries such as Japan, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations, and Christmas trees.
Countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Cambodia, China (excepting Hong Kong and Macau), the Comoros, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, the Maldives, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, the Sahrawi Republic, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen. Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions.
Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.
Further information: Christianity in Africa
Ethiopia and Eritrea
Christmas Day is a public holiday in Eritrea that is celebrated on January 7 or on 27 Tahsas of the Ethiopian calendar. Christmas is called Ledet (ልደት) in Eritrea or Gena (ገና) in Ethiopia. Many people who are Christian in the two countries fast for 40 days (it is called fast of the prophets). They then head to church at dawn on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day, there will be colorful musical celebrations which involve the priests dressed in their best robes performing rituals, including dancing and playing drums and other instruments. Early in the morning at dawn, everyone dresses in white and head to the nearby church. Late in the afternoon there will be the traditional game of Gena, a kind of hockey. According to an Ethiopian legend, the game was being played by the shepherds who were tending their flocks on the night that Jesus was born. The game is attended by the leader of the community. A prize is awarded to the winner of the Gena game. Most Ethiopians don a traditional Shamma, a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends.The holiday is followed up by the three-day festival Timkat starting on January 19 and celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Christmas Day is a public holiday in Nigeria which is always marked by the emptying of towns and cities as Nigerians that have been successful returning to their ancestral villages to be with family and to bless those less fortunate. As the towns and cities empty, people jam the West African markets to buy and transport live chickens, goats and cows that will be needed for the Christmas meals.
On Christmas Eve, traditional meals are prepared according to the traditions of each region. Nigerians as a whole tend to prepare various meats in large quantities. In the south, a dish called Jollof rice is served with stews of various meats along with boiled beans and fried plantains; in the north, Rice and Stew as well as Tuwon Shinkafa, a rice pudding served with various meat stews, is preferred. In the North several local desserts are also made which is hardly ever found in other parts of Nigeria. An alternative in both regions (but more favored in the south) is a pepper soup with fish, goat, or beef which may also be served with Fufu (pounded yam). Served with this food are an array of mainly alcoholic drinks such as the traditional palm wine or various local and imported beers and wines; children and women may be served locally-made soft-drink equivalents instead.
Gift giving in Nigeria often involves money and the flow of gifts from the more fortunate to the less fortunate. After the "successful" visitors have come from their towns, cities, and even overseas, they are given time to settle in. Afterwards, local relatives begin approaching them asking for assistance of some kind, whether financial or not. Financial donations and elaborately wrapped gifts may be given out at lavish parties, weddings, and ceremonies; sometimes the money is scattered in the air to be grabbed by the others or stuck onto the sweaty foreheads of those dancing.
Religion in Nigeria is about equally divided between Christians and Muslims. There are occasional outbreaks of religious conflict. The Islamic sect Boko Haram has attacked Christian churches with bombings on Christmas 2011.
Christmas in South Africa is a public holiday celebrated on December 25. Many European traditions are maintained despite the distance from Europe.
Christmas trees are set up in homes and the children are given presents in their stockings. Traditional 'fir' Christmas trees are popular and children leave a stocking out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The gift bearer is Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas meal is mince pies, turkey, roast beef or a barbecue outdoors. The meal is finished with Christmas Pudding. Christmas crackers are used to make noise.
Despite Christmas occurring at the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer, wintery motifs common to the Northern Hemisphere are popular.
In China, December 25 is not a legal holiday. However, it is still designated as a public holiday in China's special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, both former colonies of Western powers with nominal Christian cultural heritage.
In the mainland, the small percentage of Chinese citizens who consider themselves Christians unofficially, and usually privately, observe Christmas. Many other individuals celebrate Christmas-like festivities even though they do not consider themselves Christians. Many customs, including sending cards, exchanging gifts, and hanging stockings are very similar to Western celebrations. Commercial Christmas decorations, signs, and other symbolic items have become increasingly prevalent during the month of December in large urban centres of mainland China, reflecting a cultural interest in this Western phenomenon, and, sometimes, retail marketing campaigns as well.
In Hong Kong, where Christmas is a public holiday, many buildings facing Victoria Harbour will be decorated with Christmas lights. Christmas trees are found in major malls and other public buildings, and in some homes as well, despite the small living area. Catholics in Hong Kong can attend Christmas Mass.
Christmas is a public holiday in Macau. Its traditions are mostly influenced by the Portuguese since the territory was a colony of Portugal until December 20, 1999. Casinos in Macau remain open on Christmas Day. Christmas masses in Macau's Catholic churches are held in either Chinese or Portuguese.
Encouraged by commerce, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. Gifts are sometimes exchanged. Christmas parties are held around Christmas Day; Japanese Christmas cake, a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries, is often consumed and Stollen cake, either imported or made locally, is widely available. Christmas lights decorate cities, and Christmas trees adorn living areas and malls. Christmas Eve has become a holiday for couples to spend time together and exchange gifts. A successful advertising campaign in the 1970s made eating at KFC around Christmas a national custom. Its chicken meals are so popular during the season that stores take reservations months in advance.
The first recorded Christmas in Japan was a Mass held by Jesuit Missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. Some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held before this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan. Christianity was banned throughout Japan in 1612. However, a small enclave of Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians") continued to practice underground over the next 250 years.
Christianity in Japan along with Christmas reemerged in the Meiji period. Influenced by America, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread, but its proximity to the New Year's celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all celebrations, especially American, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with an expanding economy, and influenced by American TV, Christmas became popular. Many songs and TV series present Christmas as romantic, for example "Last Christmas" by Exile. The birthday of the current emperor, Akihito, on December 23 is a national holiday. Businesses soon close for the New Year's holidays, reopening after January 3.
Christmas is a public holiday in South Korea.
As Christmas is totally banned in North Korea, South Koreans living near the DMZ are not allowed to put an outdoor Christmas tree or decorations.
Being a British colony until 1947, many British traditions stayed on in India. Christmas is a state holiday in India, although Christianity in India is a minority with only 2.3% (of 1.237 Billion) of the population. Most of the Christians, especially Catholics in India attend the midnight mass. Many Christian houses in India decorate Christmas cribs, hang brightly lit stars outside their houses and distribute sweets and cakes to their neighbors. In many of the schools that are run by the Christian missionaries, the children actively participate in Christmas programs. Also in many non-religious schools, there is tradition of Christmas celebration. Christmas is also increasingly celebrated by other religions in India. Christmas is known as "Badaa Din" (Big Day) in North and North-West India and people plant trees on this day.
Christianity in Pakistan constitutes the second largest religious minority community in Pakistan after Hindus. The total number of Christians is approximately 2,800,000 in 2008, or 1.6% of the population. Of these, approximately half are Roman Catholic and half Protestant. Christians celebrate Christmas by going from house to house singing carols, and in return the family offers something to the choir. Mostly the money collected from such carols is used for charity works or is given to the church. Their homes are decorated with local Christmas handicrafts while artificial stars signifying the Star of Bethlehem are hung on rooftops. Christmas celebrations are also popular with the urban middle class in the country with hotels, cafes, restaurants and theme parks hosting festivities and special events.
As of December 22, 2015, Christmas is totally banned in Brunei (but for its expatriate and local Christian community, it is still celebrated as usual privately amongst themselves), which includes putting up Christmas trees, singing Christmas carols, Nativity plays, festive greeting, and even dressing as Santa Claus. About 20 percent of the population are non-Muslims and anyone caught will face up to five years in jail. Before the Sharia law was passed in 2014, non-Muslim expats were free to celebrate Christmas in Brunei.
Main article: Christmas in Indonesia
The Christmas in Indonesia (locally known as Natal, from the Portuguese word for Christmas), is one of many public holidays in Indonesia which approximately 16.5 million Protestants and 6.9 million Roman Catholics, celebrated with various traditions throughout the country. In the provinces with majority or significantly of Christian (Protestants and Catholics) such as North Sumatra, Jakarta, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, West Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, the whole Papua Island, and cities like Surabaya, Tangerang, Batam, Bandung, etc., the Christmas season is filled with ceremonies, festival, and local foods. In big cities, many shopping centres, offices, some roads, and other commercial places are mostly decorated with Christmas stuff such as plastic Christmas trees and Sinterklas (derived from the Dutch word Sinterklaas) and its reindeers. Most local television channels will broadcast Christmas musical concerts and annual national Christmas celebrations like concerts and Christmas shows which are held by the government. Like other countries, on Christmas Eve, people will go to church for Misa and will go to church again the next morning, and exchanging gifts is a usual tradition for Christians in Indonesia. In addition to traditional foods, generally every Christmas Day is filled with cookies, like nastar (pineapple tart), kastengel (from Dutch word kasteengel), or 'putri salju'.
Main article: Christianity in Malaysia
Although Christmas is a public holiday in Malaysia, much of the public celebration is commercial in nature and has no overt religious overtones. Occasionally, Christian activist groups do buy newspaper advertorials on Christmas or Easter but this is largely only allowed in English newspapers and permission is not given every year. The advertorials themselves are usually indirect statements. There has been controversy over whether or not the national government has exerted pressure on Malaysian Christians not to use Christian religious symbols and hymns that specifically mention Jesus Christ.
Main article: Christmas in the Philippines
Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia (the other one being East Timor), is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and is widely celebrated. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September 1 when the "Ber Months" season kicks off traditionally. The season is officially ushered in by the nine-day dawn Masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) in the traditional Spanish, these Masses are more popularly known in Tagalog as the Simbang Gabi, and are held in Catholic parishes and chapels nationwide. Usually, aside from the already legal holidays which are Rizal Day (December 30) and New Year's Eve (December 31), other days in close proximity such as Christmas Eve (December 24), Niños Inocentes (December 28), and the Epiphany (traditionally, January 6 but now on the first Sunday of January) are also declared non-working days.
As in many East Asian countries, secular Christmas displays are common both in business establishments and in public, including lights, Christmas trees, depictions of Santa Claus despite the tropical climate, and Christmas greetings in various foreign languages and various Philippine languages. Occasionally such displays are left in place even in summer for example the parol representing the "Star of Bethlehem" which led the Three Kings to the newborn Baby Jesus.
For Filipinos, Christmas Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Pasko; Spanish: Víspera del Día de Navidad) on December 24 is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and immediately after, the much-anticipated Noche Buena – the traditional Christmas Eve feast. Family members dine together around 12 midnight on traditional Nochebuena fare, which may include: queso de bola (English: "ball of cheese"; this is actually edam cheese), tsokolate (a hot chocolate drink), and jamón (Christmas ham), lechón, roast chicken or turkey, pasta, relleno (stuffed bangus or chicken), pan de sal, and various desserts including cakes and the ubiquitous fruit salad. Some would also open presents at this time.
On December 31, New Year's Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Bagong Taon; Spanish: Víspera del Año Nuevo), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the campaign against firecrackers, many Filipinos still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are also supposed to drive away bad spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight in the belief that they will grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in good luck.
Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes in Spanish or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany (Spanish: Fiesta de Epifanía). The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on January 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, in the belief that the Three Kings will leave gifts like candy or money inside. But the celebrations do not end there, since 2011, as mandated by the Catholic Church, they are on the second Sunday of January in honor of the Lord Jesus's baptism in the Jordan (the Solemnity of the Lord's Baptism or in Spanish Solemnidad de Bautismo del Señor). The final salvo of these celebrations is marked by the feast of the Black Nazarene every January 9 in Manila and Cagayan de Oro, but can also, due to the celebrations in honor of the Santo Niño in the third and fourth Sundays of January in some places, can even extend till the final weeks of that month.
Christmas is a public holiday in Singapore that is widely celebrated. The Christmas season is also a popular period for shopping centres and businesses to conduct year-end sales, and will offer discounts and promotions that tie in with the festivities. The famous Singaporean shopping belt Orchard Road, as well as the Marina Bay area will feature lights and other decorations from early November till early January (the 2014 part is November 14, 2014 all the way until January 5, 2015). The Christmas light-up and decorated shopping malls along Orchard Road often attract numerous visitors, locals and tourists alike. Other than the light-up, other activities such as caroling, concerts and parades can also be experienced in Orchard Road. In addition, companies in Singapore usually arrange gift exchange programs on the last working day before Christmas.
Christmas is not a national holiday but is becoming increasingly popular in Vietnam. The ever-wealthier Vietnamese are embracing Christmas precisely because of its non-religious glamor and commercial appeal. Locals also are more exposed to Western culture, though their style of celebrating Christmas might seem unrecognizable to some Westerners. Vietnamese may be more accepting of corporate influence because for many, Christmas was never based on personal values to begin with. It's not a time to have dinner at home with family and show thanks for one another. Instead, it's a time to go out on the town, shop, and take pictures with friends in front of colorful displays, especially on December 24.
Southwest Asia – Eastern Mediterranean
Armenians usually celebrate Christmas on January 6. The reason for this unusual date emerges from ancient history. "In the fourth century Roman Catholic Church, officials established the date of Christmas as December 25th."  Before that time, Armenians celebrated Christmas (surb tsnunt, Սուրբ Ծնունդ, meaning "Holy Birth") on January 6 as a public holiday in Armenia. It also coincides with the Epiphany. The Armenians denied the new Roman mandate regarding Christmas, and continued to celebrate both the Nativity and Jesus’ baptism on January 6. When the Gregorian calendar was implemented in 1582, the Armenians rejected the reformed calendar and remained following the Julian Calendar. But today, only Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem still uses the Julian Calendar. Since the Julian calendar is thirteen days ahead of the Gregorian Calendar, when the Armenians of Jerusalem celebrate Christmas on January 6 according to the Julian calendar the Gregorian calendar counts the day as January 19.
Traditionally, Armenians fast during the week leading up to Christmas avoiding all meat, eggs, and dairy products. Devout Armenians may even refrain from food for the three days leading up to the Christmas Eve, in order to receive the Eucharist on a "pure" stomach. Christmas Eve is particularly rich in traditions. Families gather for the Christmas Eve dinner (khetum, Խթում), which generally consists of: rice, fish, nevik (նուիկ, a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas), and yogurt/wheat soup (tanabur, թանապուր). Dessert includes dried fruits and nuts, including rojik, which consists of whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, bastukh (a paper-like confection of grape jelly, cornstarch, and flour), etc. This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives. "On the eve of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of The Lord Jesus Christ, the Jrakalouyts Divine Liturgy (the lighting of the lamps service) is celebrated in honor of the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God (theophany)"  In addition to the Christmas tree (tonatsar, Տօնածառ), Armenians (particularly in the Middle East) also erect the Nativity scene. Christmas in the Armenian tradition is a purely religious affair. Santa Claus does not visit the nice Armenian children on Christmas, but rather on New Year's Eve. The idea of Santa Claus existed before the Soviet Union and he was named kaghand papik (Կաղանդ Պապիկ), but the Soviet Union had a great impact even on Santa Claus. Now he goes by the more secular name of Grandfather Winter (dzmerr papik, Ձմեռ Պապիկ).
The Assyrians, the indigenous people of northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey that belong to the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, and Chaldean Catholic Church today celebrate Christmas on December 25. Assyrians colloquially call Christmas Eda Zora, meaning "little holiday." It is officially called Eda d'Yalde which means "birthday holiday." Traditionally, Assyrians fast (sawma) from December 1 until Christmas Day. In Iraq, for instance, on Christmas Eve, Assyrian families congregate outside of their house and hold lighted candles while a child reads aloud the nativity story. Then they all sing psalms over a bonfire made of thorn bushes. Folklore says that if the thorns burn to ashes, the family will have good luck. After the fire has been reduced to ashes, the family members will jump three times over the ashes and make a wish. The next day, on Christmas, "as another bonfire burns in the churchyard, the bishops lead the service while carrying a figure of the baby Jesus. He blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the next person and the touch passes around until all have felt the touch of peace." Many Assyrians will attend the Shaharta, or midnight vigil before Christmas. On Christmas Day, when families gather together after the Shaharta or morning mass, raza d'mowlada d'maran, the fast is broken by eating traditional Assyrian foods such as pacha/reesh-aqle (meaning "from the head to the tail"), which is a boiled soup made of sheep or cow intestines, tongue, stomach, legs, and spices or harissa, a porridge made of ground wheat and chicken (both dishes are prepared usually overnight). These two dishes are only made twice a year: on Christmas and Easter. Traditional desserts eaten after the main course include Killeche, a date and walnut-stuffed cookie, and Kadeh, another stuffed pastry. After the feast is finished, Assyrians will visit the houses of family and friends to exchange Christmas greetings, saying, "Eedokhon breekha," meaning "May your feast be blessed." There, the host will serve tea, Turkish coffee, and Killeche and Kadeh to guests. Although Christmas is celebrated in a much more religious fashion, in recent years, families put up a small Christmas tree in the house.
Christmas is an official holiday in Lebanon. Lebanese celebrate Christmas on December 25, except for Armenian Lebanese who celebrate Christmas on January 6 which is also an official holiday in Lebanon. Lebanese families come together and butcher a sheep for a Christmas Eve feast, in honor of the birth of The Shepherd Jesus Christ. On that night the head of the house passes around a piece of coal representing the sins before Christ. After the piece of coal has been passed around it is then set on fire. After Dinner, Christian Lebanese attend midnight mass. Santa Claus is known by the French, Papa Noël. Gifts are either dropped off at church or Papa Noël makes a personal appearance at the home.
Christmas is observed widely on December 25. Governments recognizing the holiday include those of: the United States, where it is a federal holiday for federal employees and a legal holiday in the respective States; Canada, where it is a nationwide statutory holiday; Mexico, where it is also a nationwide statutory holiday; and several others.
In the Canadian provinces where English is the predominant language, Christmas traditions are largely similar to those of the United States, with some lingering influences from the United Kingdom and newer traditions brought by immigrants from other European countries. Mince pies, plum pudding, and Christmas cake are traditionally served as Christmas dinner desserts, following the traditional meal of roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and winter vegetables. Christmas table crackers are not uncommon and, in some parts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Christmas traditions include mummers.
North American influences on Christmas are evident in the hanging of stockings on Christmas Eve, to be filled by Santa Claus. However, Canadian children believe that the home of Santa Claus is located at the North Pole, in Canada, and, through Canada Post, address thousands of letters to Santa Claus each year, using the postal code designation H0H 0H0. Decorated Christmas trees, either fresh cut or artificial, were introduced to Canada in 1781, originally by German soldiers stationed in Quebec during the American Revolution, and are now common in private homes and commercial spaces throughout most of Canada.
As Canada is a cold, dark country in winter, lights are often put up in public places and on commercial and residential buildings in November and December. Many communities have celebrations that include light events, such as the Cavalcade of Lights Festival in Toronto, the Montreal Christmas Fireworks, or the Bright Nights in Stanley Park, Vancouver. A national program, Christmas Lights Across Canada, illuminates Ottawa, the national capital, and the 13 provincial and territorial capitals.
In the province of Quebec, Christmas traditions include réveillon, Père Noël ("Father Christmas"), and the bûche de Noël (Yule log), among many others. A traditional dish for the réveillon is tourtière, a savoury meat pie, and gifts are opened during réveillon, often following Midnight Mass.
The Royal Christmas Message from the Canadian monarch is televised nationwide in Canada, the occasion being an observance which unites Canadians with citizens of the other Commonwealth countries worldwide. The observation of Boxing Day on the day following Christmas Day is a tradition practiced in Canada, as it is in many other Anglophone countries, although not in the United States. In Canada, Boxing Day is a day (or the beginning of a few days) of deeply discounted sale prices at retail stores which attract large numbers of shoppers in search of bargains.
See also: Christmas in Mexico
Christmas is a statutory holiday in Mexico and workers can have the day off with pay. Mexico's Christmas is filled with over 30 traditions found only within Mexican Christmas. Over nine days, groups of townspeople go from door to door in a fashion of when the parents of the unborn baby Jesus Christ looked for shelter to pass the night when they arrived at Bethlehem, and are periodically called inside homes to participate in the breaking of a candy-filled piñata.
Mexican Christmas festivities start on December 12, with the feast of La Guadalupana (Virgin of Guadalupe), and end on January 6, with the Epiphany. Since the 1990s, Mexican society has embraced a new concept linking several celebrations around Christmas season into what is known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon. At midnight on Christmas, many families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nacimientos (Nativity scenes), as the symbolic representation of Christmas as a whole. In the center and south of Mexico, children receive gifts on Christmas Eve and on January 6, they celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when, according to tradition, the Three Wise Men (3 Wizard Kings) brought gifts to Bethlehem for Jesus Christ. Santa Claus (or Santa Clos, as he's known in Mexico) is who brings the children their gifts, but traditionally the Three Wise Men will fill the children's shoes with candies, oranges, tangerines, nuts, and sugar cane, and sometimes money or gold. For the Three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus Gold for his future.
Further information: Christmas in the post-war United States
Christmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States, and Christmas Day is officially recognized as a federal holiday by the US Government. The Christmas and holiday season begins around the end of November with a major shopping kickoff on Black Friday, the day after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving, though Christmas decorations and music playing in stores sometimes extend into the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many schools and businesses are closed during the period between Christmas and the New Year's Day holiday, which is a time commonly used to spend time with family and close friends, return unwanted gifts at stores, and shop after-Christmas sales. Most decorations are taken down by New Years or Epiphany. Other observances considered part of the season (and potentially included in non-denominational holiday greetings like "Happy Holidays") include Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanzaa, and winter solstice celebrations.
The interior and exterior of houses are decorated during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas tree farms in the United States and Canada provide families with trees for their homes, many opting for artificial ones, but some for real ones. The Christmas tree usually stands centrally in the home, decorated with ornaments, tinsel, and lights, with an angel or a star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem at the top.
Christmas Eve is popularly described as "the night before Christmas" in the poem actually titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas". Better known as Santa Claus, he is said to visit homes while children are sleeping during the night before Christmas morning. The fireplaces in many homes have been replaced by electric fireplaces, but the yule log has remained a tradition. Christmas stockings are hung on the mantelpiece for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts ("stocking stuffers"). It is tradition throughout the United States for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus nearby.
Presents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets. Friends exchange wrapped presents and tell each other not to open presents before Christmas. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and occasionally guests from out of town are entertained in the home or else visited. Wrapped presents are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, some families choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved; for example, adults might open their presents on Christmas Eve and minor children on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. Others follow the tradition of opening family-exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve night, followed by opening of the presents Santa brought on Christmas morning. Children are normally allowed to play with their new toys and games afterwards.
The traditional Christmas dinner usually features either roasted turkey with stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham, or roast beef. Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries. A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe (usually kept a secret). Sometimes, families also partake in a religious tradition, such as the consumption of a Christmas wafer in Christian families of European ancestry. Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.
Other traditions include a special church service on the Sunday before Christmas and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Candlelight services are held earlier in the evening for families with children. A re-enactment of the Nativity of Jesus called a Nativity play is another tradition.
Christmas-related tourist attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and elaborate animated department storeChristmas windows in New York City are heavily visited by tourists from all over the world. Christmas music can be heard in the background. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one whose annual carol singing is well-recognized; another example is the Boys choir heard singing "Christmas Time Is Here", a song featured in the animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Christmas symphony orchestra and choral presentation such as Handel's Messiah and performances of The Nutcracker ballet are attended. Local radio stations may temporarily switch format to play exclusively Christmas music, some going to an all-Christmas format as early as mid-October. A few television stations broadcast a Yule Log