Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which, in Western Christian Churches, is held annually on 25 December. For centuries, it has been the subject of several reformations, both religious and secular.
In the 17th century, the Puritans had laws forbidding the ecclesiastical celebration of Christmas, unlike the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church, the latter from which they separated. 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 forcibly renamed the "equality cake" under anticlerical government policies. Later, in the 20th century, Christmas celebrations were prohibited under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union. In Nazi Germany, organized religion as a whole was attacked as an enemy of the state and Christmas celebrations were corrupted so as to serve the Party's racist ideology.
Modern-day controversy occurs mainly in China, the United States and to a much lesser extent the United Kingdom. Some opponents have denounced the generic term "holidays" and avoidance of using the term "Christmas" as being politically correct. This often involves objections to government or corporate efforts to acknowledge Christmas in a way that is multiculturally sensitive.
Sextus Julius Africanus, a historian of the second century, maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was conceived on 25 March, which the Christian Church came to celebrate as the Feast of the Annunciation. With the term of a pregnancy being nine months, Sextus Julius Africanus held that Jesus was born on 25 December, which the Western Christian Church established as Christmas. Recorded in Sextus Julius Africanus's Chronographiai (221 AD), this thesis is corroborated by an interpretation of Gospel of Luke that places the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah on the observance of Yom Kippur that occurs around October, as "the worshipers were praying outside of the Temple and not within" for "only the priest could enter the Temple at this time to conduct the proper rituals"; because Jesus was six months younger than his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus was conceived in March and born in late December.
An early mention of Christmas observance is from 129 AD when a Roman bishop decreed: "In the Holy Night of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, all shall solemnly sing the Angels Hymn." In 274 AD, Emperor Aurelian made a festival for Sol Invictus ("The Unconquered Sun"), originally a Syrian deity who was later adopted as the chief deity of the Roman Empire. While some writers believe this may have influenced the Christian feast of Christmas, other historians such as Louis Duchesne, Hieronymus Engberding [de] and Thomas Talley maintain that the Christian feast of Christmas was already being celebrated and that Aurelian established Dies Natalis Solis Invicti in order to compete with the Christian feast of Christmas.
The Christian Council of Tours of 567 established Advent as the season of preparation for Christmas, as well as the season of Christmastide, declaring "the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany to be one unified festal cycle", thus giving significance both to 25 December and to 6 January, a solution that would "coordinate the solar Julian calendar with the lunar calendars of its provinces in the east".
In Christian belief, the teaching 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 exact date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is considered a non-issue.
During the winter, the burning of logs was a common practice among many cultures across Northern Europe. In Scandinavia, this was known as the yule log and originally had a pagan significance; after the Christianization of Scandinavia, it may have been incorporated into the Christian celebration of Christmas there, with the pagan significance no longer remaining. However, as there are no existing references to a Christmas log prior to the 16th century, the burning of the Christmas block may have been an early modern invention by Christians unrelated to the pagan practice.
Many other Advent and Christmastide customs developed within the context of Christianity, such as the lighting of the Advent wreath (invented by Lutherans in 16th century Germany), the marking of an Advent calendar (first used by Lutherans in the 19th century), the lighting of a Christingle (invented by Moravians in 19th century Britain), and the viewing of a Nativity play (first enacted by Catholic monks in 11th century Italy).
Prior to the Victorian era, Christmas was primarily a religious holiday observed by Christians of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran denominations. Its importance was often considered secondary to that of Epiphany and Easter.
The Puritans, on the other hand, objected to the Christian feast of Christmas, during the English Interregnum, when England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament. Puritans sought to remove elements they viewed as unbiblical, from their practice of Christianity, including those feasts established by the Anglican Church. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it "a popish festival with no biblical justification", and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. 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. 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." Many clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. In Scotland, the presbyterian Church of Scotland also discouraged observance of Christmas. James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, but attendance at church was scant.
In Colonial America, the Pilgrims of New England disapproved 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 building their first structure in the New World—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 an English appointed governor, Edmund Andros; however, it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region. Before the Declaration of Independence in 1776, it was not widely celebrated in the U.S.
With the appearance of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church, a revival in the traditional rituals and religious observances associated with Christmastime occurred. This ushered in "the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival" as well as "special charities for the poor" in addition to "special services and musical events". Historian Ronald Hutton believes the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday, spearheaded by Charles Dickens, who "linked worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation". Dickens was not the first author to celebrate Christmastide in literature, but it was he who superimposed his humanitarian vision of the holiday upon the public, an idea that has been termed as Dickens's "Carol Philosophy".
Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to refocus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one centered on the happiness of children. He notes that there was a deliberate effort to prevent children from becoming greedy in response. Christmas was not proclaimed a holiday by the United States Congress until 1870.
In the early 20th century, Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis noted what he saw as a distinct split between the religious and commercialized observance of Christmas, the latter of which he deplored. In Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus, Lewis gives a satire of the observance of two simultaneous holidays in "Niatirb" ("Britain" spelled backward) from the supposed view of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (484–425 BC). One of the holidays, "Exmas", is observed by a flurry of compulsory commercial activity and expensive indulgence in alcoholic beverages. The other, "Crissmas", is observed in Niatirb's temples. Lewis's narrator asks a priest why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas. He receives the reply:
"It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left." And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, "It is, O Stranger, a racket ..."
The Soviet Union (until 1936), and certain other Communist regimes, banned Christmas observances in accordance with the Marxist–Leninist doctrine of state atheism. In the 1920s USSR, the League of Militant Atheists encouraged school pupils to campaign against Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, and encouraged them to spit on crucifixes as protest against this holiday; the League established an antireligious holiday to be the 31st of each month as a replacement.
Most customs traditionally associated with Christmas, such as decorated trees (renamed as New Year Trees), presents, and Ded Moroz (Father Frost), were later reinstated in Soviet society, but tied to New Year's Day instead; this tradition remains as of the present day. However, most Russian Christians are of the Orthodox community, whose religious festivals (Christmas, Easter etc.) do not necessarily coincide precisely with those of the main western Christian churches (Catholic or Protestant), because of continued connection of the church calendar to the Julian calendar.
Main article: Christmas in Nazi Germany
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 as a result "propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime's racial ideologies."
The People's Republic of China has a doctrine of state atheism and prior to the start of the Christmas season in 2018, the Chinese government shut down many Christian churches and arrested their pastors to prevent them from celebrating the holiday. According to NetEase, on the Christmas Day of 2014, a "Boycotting Christmas" campaign launched in downtown Changsha, Hunan Province, China.
The expression "the War on Christmas" has been used in the media to denote Christmas-related controversies. The term was popularized by conservative commentators such as Peter Brimelow and Bill O'Reilly beginning in the early 2000s.
Brimelow, O'Reilly and others claimed that any specific mention of the term "Christmas" or its religious aspects was increasingly censored, avoided, or discouraged by a number of advertisers, retailers, government sectors (prominently schools), and other public and secular organizations. As the egalitarian term "holidays" gained popularity, some Americans and Canadians denounced that usage as a capitulation to political correctness.
Jeff Schweitzer, a commentator for The Huffington Post, addressed the position of commentators such as O'Reilly, stating that "There is no war on Christmas; the idea is absurd at every level. Those who object to being forced to celebrate another's religion are drowning in Christmas in a sea of Christianity dominating all aspects of social life. An 80 percent majority can claim victimhood only with an extraordinary flight from reality."
Heather Long, an American columnist for The Guardian, addressed the "politically correct" question in America over use of the term "holidays", writing, "people who are clearly celebrating Christmas in their homes tend to be conflicted about what to say in the workplace or at school. No one wants to offend anyone or make assumptions about people's religious beliefs, especially at work."
Christmas Day is recognized as an official federal holiday by the United States government. The American Civil Liberties Union argues that government-funded displays of Christmas imagery and traditions violate the U.S. Constitution—specifically the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment by Congress of a national religion; on the other hand the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy organization, believes that Christmas displays are consistent with the First Amendment, as well as court rulings that have repeatedly upheld accommodationism. The debate over whether religious displays should be placed within public schools, courthouses, and other government buildings has been heated in recent years.
In some cases, popular aspects of Christmas, such as Christmas trees, lights, and decorating are still prominently showcased, but are associated with unspecified "holidays" rather than with Christmas. The controversy also includes objections to policies that prohibit government or schools from forcing unwilling participants to take part in Christmas ceremonies. In other cases, the Christmas tree, as well as Nativity scenes, have not been permitted to be displayed in public settings altogether. Also, several U.S. chain retailers, such as Walmart, Macy's, and Sears, have experimented with greeting their customers with "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" rather than with "Merry Christmas".
Supreme Court rulings, starting with Lynch v. Donnelly in 1984, have permitted religious themes in government-funded Christmas displays that had "legitimate secular purposes". Since these rulings have been splintered and have left governments uncertain of their limits, many such displays have included secular elements such as reindeer, snowmen and elves along with the religious elements. Other recent court cases have brought up additional issues such as the inclusion of Christmas carols in public school performances, but none of these cases have reached the Supreme Court.
A controversy regarding these issues arose in 2002, when the New York City public school system banned the display of Nativity scenes but allowed the display of what the policy deemed less overtly religious symbols such as Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs, and the Muslim star and crescent. The school system successfully defended its policy in Skoros v. City of New York (2006).
Since at least 2005, religious conservative groups and media in the United States, such as the American Family Association (AFA) and Liberty Counsel, have called for boycotts of various prominent secular organizations, particularly retail giants, demanding that they use the term "Christmas", rather than solely "holiday", in their print, TV, online, and in-store marketing and advertising. This was also seen by some as containing a hidden anti-Jewish message[which?]. All the major retailers named denied the charges.
In 2007, a controversy arose when a public school in Ottawa, Ontario, planned to have the children in its primary choir sing a version of the song "Silver Bells" with the word "Christmas" replaced by "festive"; the concert also included the songs "Candles of Christmas" and "It's Christmas" with the original lyrics. In 2011, in Embrun, Ontario, near Ottawa, some parents were displeased when a school replaced the Christmas concert it had held in previous years with a craft sale and winter concert scheduled for February.
In the United Kingdom, the temporary promotion of the phrase Winterval for a whole season of events (first from 20 November to 31 December 1997 and then from Halloween to the Chinese New Year in January) by Birmingham City Council in the late 1990s remains a controversial example of "Christmas controversy". Critics attack the use of the word "Winterval" as being "political correctness gone mad", and accuse council officials of trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. The council responded to the criticism by stating that Christmas-related words and symbols were prominent in its publicity material: "there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas"
In November 2009, the city council of Dundee was accused of banning Christmas because it promoted its celebrations as the Winter Night Light festival, initially with no specific references to Christianity. Local church leaders were invited to participate in the event, and they did.
The Christian holidays of Christmas Day and Good Friday remained in secular post-apartheid South Africa's calendar of public holidays. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), a chapter nine institution established in 2004, held countrywide consultative public hearings in June and July 2012 to assess the need for a review of public holidays following the receipt of complaints from minority groups about unfair discrimination. The CRL Rights Commission stated that they would submit their recommendations to the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Labour, various Portfolio Committees and the Office of the Presidency by October 2012. The CRL Rights Commission published its recommendations on 17 April 2013, including the scrapping of some existing public holidays to free up days for some non-Christian religious public holidays.
The common practice of schoolchildren visiting local churches for Christmas services in December is opposed by the Norwegian Humanist Association, the Children's Ombudsman and by the Union of Education. There have been several local controversies over the issue. The political parties have mostly been in favor of this being decided by the schools themselves, but the government has underlined that schools who participate in Christmas services must offer an alternative for pupils who do not want to attend and that services must not take place on the day that marks the closing of schools before the Christmas holiday. The Solberg's Cabinet says in its government declaration that it looks positively upon schools taking part in services in churches before religious holidays.
According to a 2013 poll by Norstat for Vårt Land, 68% of Norwegians support having school-arranged Christmas services, while 14% are opposed. 17% do not hold any opinion on the issue.
A 2011 school law stating that public schools should be non-confessional led to debate over what this meant for the tradition that schools gather in churches in December to celebrate Advent, Lucia or Christmas. Eighty thousand Swedes signed a 2012 protest letter (Adventsuppropet) initiated by the newspaper Dagen to Minister for Education Jan Björklund, demanding that school visits to churches should still be allowed to include religious rituals. The minister clarified that church visits before Christmas might include the singing of Christmas hymns and a priest talking about the Christmas gospel, but common prayers and reading a Confession of Faith would violate the law.
In 2012, Sveriges Radio reported that about one in six schools had changed the way they mark Christmas traditions as a result of the new law.
The Soviet Union, and certain other Communist regimes, banned Christmas observances in accordance with the Marxist–Leninist doctrine of state atheism. In the 1920s USSR, the League of Militant Atheists encouraged school pupils to campaign against Christmas traditions such as the Christmas tree and the country rehashed the Christmas tree as the New Year tree, devoid of its Christian associations.
Since the 1980s, there have been instances in the United States and Canada when officials used the term "holiday tree" to refer to what is commonly called a "Christmas tree". Reaction to such nomenclature has been mixed.
In 2005, when the city of Boston labeled their official decorated tree as a holiday tree, the Nova Scotian tree farmer who donated the tree responded that he would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a "holiday" tree.
In 2009 in West Jerusalem, the Lobby for Jewish Values, with support of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, handed out fliers condemning Christmas and called for a boycott of "restaurants and hotels that sell or put up Christmas trees and other 'foolish' Christian symbols".
The Brussels Christmas tree in the Belgian capital sparked controversy in December 2012, as it was part of renaming the Christmas Market as "Winter Pleasures". Local opposition saw it as appeasement of the Muslim minority in the city.
Efforts have also been made to rename official public holiday trees as "Christmas trees". In 2002, a bill was introduced in the California Senate to rename the State Holiday Tree the California State Christmas Tree; while this measure did not pass, at the official lighting of the tree on 4 December 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to the tree as a Christmas tree in his remarks and in the press release his office issued after the ceremony. Schwarzenegger had previously ended the secular practice of calling it a "holiday tree" in 2004 during the 73rd annual lighting. The name change was in honor of the late Senator William "Pete" Knight. Schwarzenegger said at Knight's funeral that he would change the name back to Christmas tree. Knight had lobbied unsuccessfully to change the name after Governor Davis decided to call it a holiday tree.
The Michigan Senate had a debate in 2005 over whether the decorated tree in front of the Michigan Capitol would continue to be called a holiday tree (as it had been since the early 1990s) or named a Christmas tree. The question was revisited in 2006, when the bipartisan Michigan Capitol Committee voted unanimously to use the term Christmas tree. And in 2007, Wisconsin lawmakers considered whether to rename the tree in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda, a holiday tree since 1985, the Wisconsin State Christmas Tree.
With the atheistic Cult of Reason in power during the era of Revolutionary France, Christian Christmas church services were banned and the three kings cake was forcibly renamed the "equality cake" under antireligious government policies. In the former Eastern Bloc, where governments implemented the policy of state atheism, Christmas and other religious holidays were "effectively banned". The League of Militant Atheists organized alternate festivals "specifically to denigrate religious holidays" in the USSR. In the United States, some atheists choose to celebrate Christmas fully, while others celebrate only portions of the holiday, and others reject it completely. In China, which is officially an atheist state, some officials in 2018 raided Christian churches just prior to Christmas and forced them to close.
The celebration of Christmas has occasionally been criticized by Muslims in Turkey. Turkey has adopted a secular version of Christmas and a Santa Claus figure named Noel Baba (from the French Père Noël). During the 2013 holiday season, a Muslim youth group launched an anti-Santa Claus campaign, protesting against the celebration of Christmas in the country. In December 2015, political and religious activists organized protests against the growing influence of Christmas and Santa Claus in Turkish society. In Indonesia, some radicalists proposing December 25th as "World Moslem Convert Day" (Hari Muallaf Sedunia), even though some people dismiss this idea as asinine and dangerous.
Some churches, sects, and communities of the Restoration Movement reject the observance of Christmas for theological reasons; these include Jehovah's Witnesses, Armstrongites, the True Jesus Church, The Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Church of God (Seventh-Day), the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Christian Congregation in Brazil, the Christian Congregation in the United States, and the Churches of Christ, as well as certain reformed and fundamentalist churches of various persuasions, including some Independent Baptists and Oneness Pentecostals.
The December 1957 News and Views published by the Church League of America, a conservative organization founded in 1937, attacked the use of Xmas in an article titled "X=The Unknown Quantity". The claims were picked up later by Gerald L. K. Smith, who in December 1966 claimed that Xmas was a "blasphemous omission of the name of Christ" and that "'X' is referred to as being symbolical of the unknown quantity." Smith further argued that Jews introduced Santa Claus to suppress the New Testament accounts of Jesus, and that the United Nations, at the behest of "world Jewry", had "outlawed the name of Christ". There is, however, a well-documented history of use of Χ (actually a chi) as an abbreviation for "Christ" (Χριστός) and possibly also a symbol of the cross.[unreliable source?][unreliable source?] The abbreviation appears on many Orthodox Christian religious icons.
During the decades of official state atheism in the Soviet era, Christmas had been a nonholiday.
On the mainland, seventeenth-century Puritan New England had laws forbidding the observance of Christmas. The Christian groups who broke with the Catholic Church and the Church of England deemphasized Christmas in the early colonial period.
Carols were altered by substituting names of prominent political leaders for royal characters in the lyrics, such as the Three Kings. Church bells were melted down for their bronze to increase the national treasury, and religious services were banned on Christmas Day. The cake of kings, too, came under attack as a symbol of royalty. It survived, however, for a while with a new name—the cake of equality.
During the French Revolution in 1793 the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, an atheistic doctrine intended to replace Christianity.
How did people celebrate the Christmas during the French Revolution? In white-knuckled terror behind closed doors. Anti-clericalism reached its apex on 10 November 1793, when a Fête de la Raison was held in honor of the Cult of Reason. Churches across France were renamed "Temples of Reason" and the Notre Dame was "de-baptized" for the occasion. The Commune spared no expense: "The first festival of reason, which took place in Notre Dame, featured a fabricated mountain, with a temple of philosophy at its summit and a script borrowed from an opera libretto. At the sound of Marie-Joseph Chénier's Hymne à la Liberté, two rows of young women, dressed in white, descended the mountain, crossing each other before the 'altar of reason' before ascending once more to greet the goddess of Liberty." As you can probably gather from the above description, 1793 was not a great time to celebrate Christmas in the capital.
A chapter on representations of Christmas in Soviet cinema could, in fact be the shortest in this collection: suffice it to say that there were, at least officially, no Christmas celebrations in the atheist socialist state after its foundation in 1917.
For the first time in more than seven decades, Christmas—celebrated today by Russian Orthodox Christians—is a full state holiday across Russia's vast and snowy expanse. As part of Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin's ambitious plan to revive the traditions of Old Russia, the republic's legislature declared last month that Christmas, long ignored under atheist Communist ideology, should be written back into the public calendar. 'The Bolsheviks replaced crosses with hammers and sickles,' said Vyacheslav S. Polosin, head of the Russian legislature's committee on religion. 'Now they are being changed back.'
In 1925, Christmas was effectively banned under the officially atheist Soviets, and was not to return to Russian lands until 1992. ... The state prohibited people from selling Christmas trees. There were even festivals, organized by the League of Militant Atheists, specifically to denigrate religious holidays. Their carnivals were inspired by similar events staged by activists after the French Revolution. From 1923 to 1924 and then again from 1929 to 1930 the "Komsomol Christmases" and Easters were basically holiday celebrations of atheism.
In 567 the Council of Tours proclaimed that the entire period between Christmas and Epiphany should be considered part of the celebration, creating what became known as the twelve days of Christmas, or what the English called Christmastide. On the last of the twelve days, called Twelfth Night, various cultures developed a wide range of additional special festivities. The variation extends even to the issue of how to count the days. If Christmas Day is the first of the twelve days, then Twelfth Night would be on January 5, the eve of Epiphany. If December 26, the day after Christmas, is the first day, then Twelfth Night falls on January 6, the evening of Epiphany itself. After Christmas and Epiphany were in place, on December 25 and January 6, with the twelve days of Christmas in between, Christians gradually added a period called Advent, as a time of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas.
In the year 567 the church council of Tours called the 13 days between December 25 and January 6 a festival season. Up until that time, the only other joyful church season was the fifty days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost.
This arrangement became an administrative problem for the Roman Empire as it tried to coordinate the solar Julian calendar with the lunar calendars of its provinces in the east. While the Romans could roughly match the months in the two systems, the four cardinal points of the solar year—the two equinoxes and solstices—still fell on different dates. By the time of the first century, the calendar date of the winter solstice in Egypt and Palestine was eleven to twelve days later than the date in Rome. As a result the Incarnation came to be celebrated on different days in different parts of the Empire. The Western Church, in its desire to be universal, eventually took them both—one became Christmas, one Epiphany—with a resulting twelve days in between. Over time this hiatus became invested with specific Christian meaning. The Church gradually filled these days with saints, some connected to the birth narratives in Gospels (Holy Innocents' Day, December 28, in honor of the infants slaughtered by Herod; St. John the Evangelist, "the Beloved", December 27; St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, December 26; the Holy Family, December 31; the Virgin Mary, January 1). In 567, the Council of Tours declared the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany to become one unified festal cycle.
Christmas is not really about the celebration of a birth date at all. It is about the celebration of a birth. The fact of the date and the fact of the birth are two different things. The calendrical verification of the feast itself is not really that important ... What is important to the understanding of a life-changing moment is that it happened, not necessarily where or when it happened. The message is clear: Christmas is not about marking the actual birth date of Jesus. It is about the Incarnation of the One who became like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15) and who humbled Himself "to the point of death—even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). Christmas is a pinnacle feast, yes, but it is not the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a memorial, a remembrance, of the birth of Jesus, not really a celebration of the day itself. We remember that because the Jesus of history was born, the Resurrection of the Christ of faith could happen.
Throughout the Christian world the 25th of December is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ. There was a time when the churches were not united regarding the date of the joyous event. Many Christians kept their Christmas in April, others in May, and still others at the close of September, till finally December 25 was agreed upon as the most appropriate date. The choice of that day was, of course, wholly arbitrary, for neither the exact date not the period of the year at which the birth of Christ occurred is known. For purposes of commemoration, however, it is unimportant whether the celebration shall fall or not at the precise anniversary of the joyous event.
For Christians, the precise date of the birth of Jesus is actually something of a non-issue. What really matters is that he was born as a human being, and entered into human history.
Probably the most popular tradition today is the lighting of candles on an Advent Wreath in both churches and homes. This custom originated among Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century and quickly became popular in other areas.
The Advent calendar was first used by Lutherans in the early 19th century. Early printed Advent calendars had Bible verses behind little cardboard doors.
A candle-related custom called Christingle appeared sometime in the nineteenth century in British Moravian services.
Christmas was abolished by the Puritans when in power, because it had largely become an orgy of dissipation.
They disapproved of the observation of sundry of the church-festivals or holidays, as having no foundation in Scripture, or primitive antiquity.
From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would be fined five shillings. ...
There is no doubt that A Christmas Carol is first and foremost a story concerned with the Christian gospel of liberation by the grace of God, and with incarnational religion which refuses to drive a wedge between the world of spirit and the world of matter. Both the Christmas dinners and the Christmas dinner-carriers are blessed; the cornucopia of Christmas food and feasting reflects both the goodness of creation and the joy of heaven. It is a significant sign of a shift in theological emphasis in the nineteenth century from a stress on the Atonement to a stress on the Incarnation, a stress which found outward and visible form in the sacramentalism of the Oxford Movement, the development of richer and more symbolic forms of worship, the building of neo-Gothic churches, and the revival and increasing centrality of the keeping of Christmas itself as a Christian festival. ... In the course of the century, under the influence of the Oxford Movement's concern for the better observance of Christian festivals, Christmas became more and more prominent. By the later part of the century cathedrals provided special services and musical events, and might have revived ancient special charities for the poor—though we must not forget the problems for large: parish-church cathedrals like Manchester, which on one Christmas Day had no less than eighty couples coming to be married (the signing of the registers lasted until four in the afternoon). The popularity of Dickens's A Christmas Carol played a significant part in the changing consciousness of Christmas and the way in which it was celebrated. The popularity of his public readings of the story is an indication of how much it resonated with the contemporary mood, and contributed to the increasing place of the Christmas celebration both in secular and in religious ways that were firmly established by the end of the nineteenth century.
What Dickens did advocate in his story was "the spirit of Christmas". Sociologist James Barnett has described it as Dickens's "Carol Philosophy", which "combined religious and secular attitudes toward to celebration into a humanitarian pattern. It excoriated individual selfishness and extolled the virtues of brotherhood, kindness, and generosity at Christmas. ...Dickens preached that at Christmas men should forget self and think of others, especially the poor and the unfortunate." The message was one that both religious and secular people could endorse.
C.S. Lewis wrote of his revulsion for the commercialization of "Xmas" in several personal letters. Once, when asked about his view on the holiday, he wrote ... 'One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more of it here. ... But the third thing called Christmas is, unfortunately, everyone's business. I mean of course the commercial racket'.
The League sallied forth to save the day from this putative religious revival. Antireligioznik obliged with so many articles that it devoted an entire section of its annual index for 1928 to anti-religious training in the schools. More such material followed in 1929, and a flood of it the next year. It recommended what Lenin and others earlier had explicitly condemned—carnivals, farces, and games to intimidate and purge the youth of religious belief. It suggested that pupils campaign against customs associated with Christmas (including Christmas trees) and Easter. Some schools, the League approvingly reported, staged an anti-religious day on the 31st of each month. Not teachers but the League's local set the programme for this special occasion.
As observed by Nicholas Brianchaninov, writing in 1929–1930, after the NEP and just as the worst of collectivization was beginning, the Soviets deemed it necessary to drive into the heads of the people the axiom that religion was the synthesis of everything most harmful to humanity. It must be presented as the enemy of man and society, of life and learning, of progress. ... In caricatures, articles, Bezbozhnik, Antireligioznik, League of Militant Atheists propaganda and films. School courses were given on conducting the struggle against religion (how to profane a church, break windows, objects of piety). The young, always eager to be with the latest trend, often responded to such propaganda. In Moscow in 1929 children were brought to spit on the crucifixes at Christmas. Priests in Tiraspol diocese were sometimes betrayed by their own young parishioners, leading to their imprisonment and even death, and tearing their families apart.
Christmas trees will not be allowed at the Salem VA Medical Center this holiday season in public areas. 'Displays must not promote any religion. Please note that trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year,' reads an email sent to employees.
An Elkhart high school Christmas concert will have to scrap part of its performance following a court ruling. US district court judge Jon Deguilio granted the Freedom From Religion Foundation a preliminary injunction. That means Concord High School is not allowed to portray a live Nativity scene in its Christmas Spectacular, which opens in less than two weeks.
Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado took a small but important step in Congress this week when he introduced a resolution, H. Res. 564, along with 35 cosponsors, to reassert the place of Christmas in the public square. The resolution "recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas; strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas."
It's a war on Halloween! Newt Gingrich warned us about this!
There is a debate among atheists about whether they should celebrate Christmas or not. Some do so because they aren't "out" as atheists. Some do so in order not to rock the boat among religious family members. Some do so because they always have and don't want to change—or simply enjoy the holiday. Others argue that it should be replaced by a more secular holiday, and still others suggest that all such holidays should be ignored by atheists.
Among those arrested are a prominent pastor and his wife, of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan. Both have been charged with state subversion. And on Saturday morning, dozens of police raided a children's Bible class at Rongguili Church in Guangzhou. One Christian in Chengdu told the BBC: "I'm lucky they haven't found me yet." China is officially atheist, though says it allows religious freedom.
Christmas is not a recognised holiday in mainland China—where the ruling party is officially atheist—and for many years authorities have taken a tough stance on anyone who celebrates it in public. ... The statement by Langfang officials said that anyone caught selling Christmas trees, wreaths, stockings or Santa Claus figures in the city would be punished. ... While the ban on the sale of Christmas goods might appear to be directed at retailers, it also comes amid a crackdown on Christians practising their religion across the country. On Saturday morning, more than 60 police officers and officials stormed a children's Bible class in Guangzhou, capital of southern China's Guangdong province. The incident came after authorities shut down the 1,500-member Zion Church in Beijing in September and Chengdu's 500-member Early Rain Covenant Church last week. In the case of the latter, about 100 worshippers were snatched from their homes or from the streets in coordinated raids.