Origins of the Christmas Holiday
Today, Christmas is one of the world’s most celebrated holidays. Can you believe there was a time when Christmas did not exist? During this time, the pagan tradition of winter solstice was the most celebrated holiday.
What is winter solstice?
Winter solstice celebrates the shortest day of the year which occurs either December 22 or 23rd. There are many ancient solstice traditions. In Ancient Egypt, people would fill their homes with palm rushes as a way to protect themselves from evil and to celebrate the return of their Sun God, Ra. Many European and Mediterranean winter solstice traditions are now a part of Christmas. In ancient Rome, The Romans called their December festival, Satunalia. One of their traditions was to decorate their home with evergreen boughs. This celebration was used to honor the God Saturn who was over agriculture. In Scotland, the Celtic Druids celebrated winter solstice by using evergreens on the darkest day of the year. The evergreens symbolized eternal life.
Do these traditions sound familiar? Over the years, these pagan celebrates are adapted to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The word “Christmas” comes from the old English phrase “Christes Masse” which translates to the Mass of Christ. The real birth date of Christ is still a mystery, but people have observed the 25th of December to celebrate it. You can find the birth of Jesus referenced in the first couple of chapters of the New Testement’s Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Why December 25th for Christmas?
There are a few competing theories that deals with Jesus’s birth and his ascendancy into divinity. Early Christian followers believe these two things happened on two different occasions.
Before the fourth century, no one celebrated Jesus’s birth, because they feared it would be interpreted as placing Jesus on the same level as King Pharaoh. Around the third century, some followers believed that Jesus’ spiritual and physical birth both happened on the January 6th. This day is called the feast of Epiphany.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem requested that Pope Julius I settle the birth date dispute. The Pope picked December 25th. Many believe the date was selected to coincide with pagan holidays. As a result, it was easier to convert pagans to Christians.
Christmas or Xmas?
Is using the abbreviation Xmas a secular adaptation of Christmas? Many people believe so, because they feel that Xmas is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas. In other words, they are not celebrating the reason for the season. Fortunately, those people are wrong. In Greek, the letter X represents the first letters of Christ’s name (Ch). In the early christian Church, they used X to represent the word “Christ.” So Xmas is an acceptable substitution for Christmas.