CHRISTMAS


Christmas[2] or Christmas Day[3][4] is an annual Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.[5][6] It is celebrated on December 25, but this date is not known to be Jesus’ actual birthday, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived,[7] a historical Roman festival,[8] or the date of the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice.[9] Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.[10]

Although traditionally a Christian holiday, Christmas is also widely celebrated by many non-Christians,[1][11] and some of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of greeting cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe, nativity scenes, and holly. In addition, Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in some areas, including North America, Australia and Ireland) is a popular mythological figure in many countries, associated with the bringing of gifts for children.[12]

Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Etymology

The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning “Christ’s Mass”. It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.[6] “Cristes” is from Greek Christos and “mæsse” is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century.[13] Hence, Xmas is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Celebration

Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in most countries of the world, even in many whose populations are not majority Christian. In some non-Christian countries, 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. Major exceptions, where Christmas is not a formal public holiday, include People’s Republic of China, (except Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and North Korea.

While most countries celebrate Christmas on December 25 each year, some eastern national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Egypt, Armenia, Ukraine, FYROM and Serbia celebrate on January 7. This is because of their use of the traditional Julian Calendar, under which December 25 falls on January 7 as measured by the standard Gregorian Calendar.

Around the world, Christmas celebrations can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions. Countries such as Japan and Korea, 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.

Commemoration of Jesus’ birth

For more detail on religious observances, see Christmas Eve.
Adorazione del Bambino (Adoration of the Child) (1439-43), a mural by Florentine painter Fra Angelico.

In Christianity, Christmas is the festival celebrating the Nativity of Jesus, the Christian belief that the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies was born to the Virgin Mary. The story of Christmas is based on the biblical accounts given in the Gospel of Matthew, namely Matthew 1:18-Matthew 2:12 and the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 1:26-Luke 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, though neither the stable nor the animals are specifically mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a manger is mentioned in Luke 2:7, where it states, “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Early iconographic representations of the nativity placed the animals and manger within a cave (located, according to tradition, under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child.[14]

Many Christians believe that the birth of Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies from the Old Testament.[15] The Gospel of Matthew also describes a visit by several Magi, or astrologers, who bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant. The visitors were said to be following a mysterious star, commonly known as the Star of Bethlehem, believing it to announce the birth of a king of the Jews.[16] The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6, is the formal end of the Christmas season in some churches.

Christians celebrate Christmas in many ways. In addition to this day being one of the most important and popular for the attendance of church services, there are numerous other devotions and popular traditions. Prior to Christmas Day, the Eastern Orthodox Church practises the Nativity Fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of Western Christianity celebrates Advent. The final preparations for Christmas are made on Christmas Eve.

Over the Christmas period, people decorate their homes and exchange gifts. In some Christian denominations, children perform plays re-telling the events of the Nativity, or sing carols that reference the event. Some Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity, known as a Nativity scene or crib, in their homes, using figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Live Nativity scenes and tableaux vivants are also performed, using actors and animals to portray the event with more realism.[17]

A long artistic tradition has grown of producing painted depictions of the nativity in art. Nativity scenes are traditionally set in a barn or stable and include Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, angels, shepherds and the Three Wise Men: Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, who are said to have followed a star, known as the Star of Bethlehem, and arrived after his birth.[18]

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