Have you ever wondered how December 25th became the date to celebrate Christmas, or the history behind Santa Claus? For many, Christmas is the time to think of Jesus Christ as a baby in a manger. But there is a long story behind it.
What is Christmas?
Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
A feast central to the Christian liturgical 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. In several countries, celebrating Christmas Eve has the main focus rather than Christmas Day.
The end of December, which has become synonymous to holidays, was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the "lord of misrule" and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined "debt" to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
Christmas in India:
Compared to other religious festivals, Christmas is quite a small festival in India, due to the number of people who are Christians (about 2.3%) compared to people who belong to other religions. Having said this, the population of India is over 1 Billion, so there are over 25 million Christians in India!
One of the largest Indian Christian Communities in a city is in Mumbai. A lot of the Christians in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) are Roman Catholics. In India's smallest State, Goa which is on the west of India, about 26% of people are Christians. Many of the Christians in Mumbai came from or have roots in Goa. The states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram have high populations of Christians as well.
Midnight mass is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics. The whole family will walk to the mass and this will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, (mostly curries) and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service.
Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or simply Santa, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve (24 December) and the early morning hours of Christmas Day (25 December). In India, Father Christmas or Santa Claus delivers presents to children from a horse and cart. He's known as 'Christmas Baba' in Hindi, 'Baba Christmas' in Urdu (both of those mean Father Christmas); 'Christmas Thaathaa' in Tamil and 'Christmas Thatha' in Telugu (both of those mean Christmas old man); and 'Natal Bua' (Christmas Elder Man) in Marathi. In Kerala State, he's known as 'Christmas Papa'.
Merry Christmas - The Greeting
In Hindi, Happy/Merry Christmas is '?ubh Krisamas'; in Urdu it's 'Krismas Mubarak'; in Sanskrit it's 'Krismasasya Shubhkaamnaa'; in Gujarati it's 'Anandi Natal' or 'Khushi Natal'; in Assamese 'Shubho Bô?din'; in Tamil it's 'Ki?istumas Va?ttukka?'; in Konkani, it's 'Khushal Borit Natala'; in Kannada it's 'Kris Mas Habbada Shubhaashayagalu'; in Mizo it's 'Krismas Chibai'; in Marathi it's 'Subh Natal'; in Punjabi it's 'Karisama te nawa? sala khusaya?wala hewe'; in Malayalam, its 'Christmas inte mangalaashamsakal'; in Telugu it's 'Christmas Subhakankshalu' and in Sindhi, it's 'Christmas jun wadhayun'.
Christmas Tree and Decor:
A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine, or fir or an artificial tree of similar appearance, associated with the celebration of Christmas. The modern Christmas tree was developed in early modern Germany (where it is today called Weihnachtsbaum or Christbaum), in which devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. It acquired popularity beyond the Lutheran areas of Germany, during the second half of the 19th century, at first among the upper classes.
The tree was traditionally decorated with "roses made of colored paper, apples, wafers, tinsel, and sweetmeats". In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles, which were ultimately replaced by Christmas lights after the advent of electrification. Today, there is a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garlands, baubles, tinsel, and candy canes. An angel or star might be placed at the top of the tree to represent the Angel Gabriel or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity. Edible items such as gingerbread, chocolate and other sweets are also popular and are tied to or hung from the tree's branches with ribbons.
In some places in India, instead of having traditional Christmas Trees, a banana or mango tree is decorated (or whatever tree people can find to decorate!). Sometimes people use mango leaves to decorate their homes. In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show their neighbours that Jesus is the light of the world.
On Christmas Eve, Christians in India, hang out giant paper lanterns, in the shape of stars, between the houses so that the stars float above you as you walk down the road. The main Christmas meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Music and Carol:
The earliest extant specifically Christmas hymns appear in fourth-century Rome. Latin hymns such as "Veni redemptor gentium", written by Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. "Corde natus ex Parentis" ("Of the Father's love begotten") by the Spanish poet Prudentius is still sung in some churches today.
The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal folk songs sung during celebrations such as "harvest tide" as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church. Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like "Personent hodie", "Good King Wenceslas", and "The Holly and the Ivy" can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages.
Exchange of Gifts and Cards:
The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebrations, making it the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. On Christmas, people exchange gifts based on the Christian tradition associated with Saint Nicholas, and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi. The practice of gift giving in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia may have influenced Christian Christian customs, but on the other hand the Christian "core dogma of the Incarnation, however, solidly established the giving and receiving of gifts as the structural principle of that recurrent yet unique event", because it was the Biblical Magi, "together with all their fellow men, who received the gift of God through man's renewed participation in the divine life."
Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding Christmas Day. The traditional greeting reads "Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", much like that of the first commercial Christmas card, produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The custom of sending them has become popular among a wide cross-section of people with the emergence of the modern trend towards exchanging E-cards.
Spreading Love through Christmas
Even as we move into today's digital age when Christmas cards are fast being replaced by e-mails and mobile phone greeting, the spirit of Christmas remains the same. Christmas is more than just a festival, it upholds the very spirit and essence of humanity. Christmas invites each one of us to be a candle that dispels the darkness of hatred, ignorance and poverty from our land. Christmas reminds us the necessity for peace and love in society.
As we gear up to celebrate Christmas and welcome the New Year, let the Yuletide spirit guide each one of us. Let us overcome our differences and understand the rues of meaning of Christmas. Let us make a new beginning this Christmas: let us spread love! Merry Christmas!