Home » Holidays » Christmas »

Origin and History

Origin and History of Christmas

Christmas is believed to have pagan roots and began almost 2000 years back. One of the most popular cultural festivals celebrated all across the globe, Christmas rejoices the birth of Lord Jesus to Mary and Joseph in a manger.

The birth of Jesus is narrated through various carols that talk of how angel Gabriel had told Mary that she will be bearing the Lord. Joseph and Mary had reached Bethlehem, Mary traveling on the "little donkey". Unable to find a room in the inn, Mary and Joseph took shelter in the manger where baby Jesus was born. It is believed that a mysterious star spread the news to the Jews and also guided the three Magi who came to shower gifts on baby Jesus.

Often the origin of Christmas is said to have stemmed from pagan festivals like the popular Roman Saturnalia, which was celebrated during the Winter Solstice. The day of Christ’s birth is conceived by the Christians to be the most sacred day of the year. It is only the New Testament, which gives an account of the story of the birth of Christ. In 336 AD Emperor Constantine converted this pagan tradition to the ‘Christian’ holiday of Christmas.
History of Christmas
The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years or more. Many of the Christmas traditions were celebrated even centuries before the birth of Christ. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the Yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals, carolers, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.

The Mesopotamians celebrated each New Year with a 12-day festival, called Zagmuth. They believed in many gods and held this festival in support of their chief god, Marduk, with the belief that he battled the monsters of chaos at the beginning of each winter. It is from this festival that the 12 days of Christmas is believed to have originated.

The custom of gift-giving on Christmas goes back to Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Calends. Initially the gifts were simple like twigs from a sacred grove as good luck emblems. Soon that escalated to food, small items of jewelry, candles, and statues of gods. To the early Church, gift-giving at this time was a pagan holdover and therefore severely frowned upon. However, people continued with it, and some justification was found in the original gift giving of the Magi, and from figures such as St. Nicholas. By the Middle Ages gift giving was accepted.

According to some legends, the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturnalia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas

The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.
Origin of Christmas
Christmas is a cultural festival celebrated globally. The exact date and month of Jesus's birth is still not known but through various traditions and ages, this date has been taken up as his birth date. The 'Chronography 354', an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome, is supposed to be the earliest reference of the date of Nativity being December 25. It is believed that a "Yonder star" had guided three magi from the East to Jerusalem where baby Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a manger. This star is believed to be the Star of Bethlehem who had announced the lord's birth to the Jews. The Christmas carol narrating this story says,

"We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar, Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following Yonder Star.

O Star of Wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, West-ward leading, still proceeding Guide us to thy perfect Light."

Christians believe that Jesus's birth to Virgin Mary was a fulfillment of Messianic prophesy as mentioned in Old Testament. Jesus was born in a manger surrounded by farm animals. It is said that an angel Gabriel had told Mary about Jesus's birth and that he is the lord who has come to save his people. His birth was rejoiced by the world, as kings and common men traversed long roads to visit the lord and brought him gifts.