Christmas Day, which is celebrated worldwide on December 25 of every year by Christians and non-Christians alike, marks the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians hold to be the Son of God. Jesus' mother Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter, and Christians hold that Jesus was born through Immaculate Conception.
The story of his birth, as written in the Bible, tells of how when his parents arrived in Bethlehem there was no room at an inn for them, so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was soon born. His birth was proclaimed by angels to shepherds who were told that he is the savior of all people.
The name Christmas comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service held to remember Jesus and which was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), hence at midnight.
HOW CHRISTMAS IS CELEBRATED:
Christmas Day is celebrated differently around the world, and for centuries it was not a one-day celebration but rather a whole season or 12 days beginning from December 25 till January 5. The celebrations would begin from December 24, known as Christmas eve, with families gathering together and preparing for the next day. It has become a tradition to stay up till midnight of December 24 and to wish one another Merry Christmas.
Before Christmas eve, there would be groups of young and old people going from house to house singing carols, with lyrics based on Christmas. Families get busy baking cakes and shopping for presents, while youngsters would go for choir practice in preparation for the big day that will take place at their respective churches.
In places dominated majorly by Christians, the streets would wear a festive look, with lights put up outside the homes and on the streets and a lit star hanging from their doors. The star signifies the Star of Bethlehem, which had heralded the birth of Jesus Christ.
Another item that signifies Christmas is the Christmas tree. Each and every house will put up a Christmas tree that is of pine or an artificial one, and families would decorate them with baubles. On Christmas eve, the tree would have presents placed under it that children and adults would open on Christmas Day.
On Christmas eve, most countries follow the practice of going to a Midnight Mass Church Service, especially Catholics. For countries like Spain, Mexico, Poland and Italy, this is the most important church service of the Christmas season. Other denominations too hold service at their churches that will go on till midnight.
On Christmas Day, after opening presents the families would prepare a feast for the day, then dress in their best clothes and go to their respective churches where service will be held. At the church, they will sing songs about the birth of Jesus Christ and read from the Bible, and then return to their respective homes or visit friends and family members and exchange gifts.
THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS:
The 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until the evening of January 5. The 12 Days have been celebrated in Europe since before the middle ages, and each traditionally celebrates a feast day for a saint.
MEANING BEHIND ANCIENT TRADITIONS:
One of the main reasons for the exchange of gifts at Christmas is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the three Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh.
There is no recorded history of when pine trees were first used as Christmas trees, but evergreen fir trees have traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. While pagans used the branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, the Romans used them to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians have been using pine as a sign of everlasting life with God. It is traditional to take down the decorations after the Twelfth Night on Epiphany (January 6th).
One of the earliest records of candles being used at Christmas is from the middle ages, where a large candle was used to represent the star of Bethlehem. Jesus is sometimes called 'the Light of the World' by Christians.
Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding Christmas Day. The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole.
CHRISTMAS PLANTS - HOLLY & POINSETTIA:
The prickly leaves of the Holly represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought of as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red-coloured leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
SANTA CLAUS OR FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Not much is known about Santa Claus, but a story goes that he was a Bishop named Nicholas who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a rich man who secretly gave to the poor, and one story, in particular, is believed to have started the custom of hanging up stockings to put presents in. Nicholas is said to have come to know about a poor man who did not have enough money for a dowry for his three daughters, so he secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house and it fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry. Because of his kindness, Nicholas was made a Saint and became known in various countries as Santa Claus.