Welcome to EternalChristmas.org here you can get everything you need to spend this holiday with your loved ones: Christmas decorations, Christmas trees and balls, lights and garlands, and of course nougats and gifts. Christmas is the Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth on the winter solstice. For many people, Christmas is a popular holiday disconnected from its religious foundation, but it is still an excellent occasion to spend time with family and friends.
Established on December 25th in the 4th century and spread by the progressive Christianization of Europe and the Mediterranean basin, this Nativity festival gradually takes the place of various festivals related to the winter solstice (Germanic festival of Yule, feast of Mithra, Roman Saturnalia …). Christ being presented as the “sun of justice” of a new era, his birth opens the Christian liturgical year with a ritualized midnight mass.
For centuries, the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus served as the basis for a great artistic richness (painting, sculpture, music, literature) which was reinforced by the popular diffusion of the crib in the 13th century, but the ferment of other traditions linked to the solstice did not completely disappear. Thus, the German-Nordic fir tree, a sign of a living nature despite the winter, is honored from the 16th century and even reaches the churches. The Christmas tree became a symbol of the festive season at the same time as the dechristianization of Europe in modern times.
The tradition of Santa Claus, which became globalized in the twentieth century, will complete this evolution that transformed the Christian holiday into a secular festival of children, families and gifts.
Today, Christmas has become highly secularized and is no longer necessarily celebrated as a religious holiday. Christmas Day is a holiday in many countries, allowing families to gather around a festive meal and exchange gifts. The second day of Christmas (December 26) is also a public holiday in several northern European countries (Poland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries) as well as in France, in the three departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle. It also allows participation in Christmas masses for those who celebrate the holiday in its religious form. After Easter, Christmas is indeed the second most important feast in the Christian liturgical calendar (the Nativity of the Lord is one of the Twelve Great Feasts). Christmas is one of the three Nativities celebrated by the Catholic Church, the other two being that of John the Baptist on June 24th and that of Mary on September 8th.
The period surrounding Christmas is called "holiday time" in French-speaking Canada and "fêtes de fin d'année" (or simply "the holidays") in Europe when New Year's celebrations are included [insufficient source]. Since the mid-twentieth century, this period has lost its Christian aspect while keeping the tradition of the feast alive. In this spirit, Christmas takes on a folkloric connotation, retaining the gathering of family units around a meal and the exchange of gifts around the traditional Christmas tree. Outside the home it gives rise to the illumination of streets, houses and stores and the organization of Christmas markets. It is also an important commercial period.
If you speak Spanish, visit our Christmas shop in Spain.
During the Christmas season it is customary to offer gifts and express solidarity with the needy. The gift is present in many traditions, such as serving a meal to the first poor crusader on Christmas Day, or in the exceptional generosity of alms given to beggars at the exit of the service celebrated on Christmas Eve.
The popularity of this feast has made Christmas a patronymic and a name in many languages spoken by Christian peoples.
Christmas has generally become a secular holiday where members of the same family get together and exchange gifts among themselves according to a ritual that is very common in the West: decorating one’s home and the Christmas tree (fir tree in cold or temperate countries); placing stockings on the chimney or shoes of all family members at the foot of the tree on the evening of December 24th for Christmas Eve; opening gifts a few hours later, often on the morning of December 25th; eating a Christmas turkey meal ending with a Christmas log, etc. This ritual can also be found among the local population with the decoration of streets and store windows in towns and villages from the beginning of December, the coming of Santa Claus on markets or in nursery schools, or in January with the “Galette des Rois”, which celebrates the arrival of the Magi at the side of the baby Jesus.
These traditions are widely accepted and shared by the majority of practicing Christians who personalize their religious feast by adding a crib and, for Catholics, the celebration of the Nativity during midnight mass; however, some see it as a detour from the Christmas feast. Dechristianized, this day becomes, for some families, the feast where parents celebrate their children: they show their love with gifts for no reason (unlike birthdays, anniversaries, individual holidays, etc.), even if for the child the gift is sometimes associated with behavior deemed to be in conformity. The celebration of this feast is thus at the origin of the Christmas controversies.
Other major religions have celebrations where parents thank their children for existing. But Catholic authorities have long expressed their disapproval of the mercantile turn that this holiday takes. Exceptionally, this disapproval has taken on spectacular aspects, such as on December 23, 1951, when an effigy representing Santa Claus was burned on the forecourt of the cathedral of Dijon by parishioners.
Several churches do not celebrate Christmas, assimilating it to a pagan feast,,. Christmas is sometimes considered as a commercial holiday. The massive purchase of Christmas gifts causes a spike in consumption, especially in the toy, leisure, food and restaurant sectors. In response to this shopping frenzy, a worldwide no-shopping day, usually scheduled on November 25, is organized by adbusters to denounce the economic aspect of this holiday, and by extension mass consumption in general.
Finally, the weakening of Christian practices has paradoxically stirred up the supporters of a radically secularized celebration or, conversely, those of a multicultural Christmas.
Christian ritual celebration
Most Christian churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of their respective liturgical calendar, which may correspond to a different date in the civil calendar. December 25 has since Aurelian (since 274) marked the anniversary of Sol Invictus. For symbolic reasons, and in an effort to Christianize the ancient pagan feasts, this date was gradually extended to the entire Latin West. In Christianity, this date thus corresponds to the feast of the birth of Christ, but not to his birthday.
For the Orthodox Churches, whose liturgical calendar is based on the Julian calendar, the date of December 25 corresponds to January 7 in the current civil calendar and to the winter solstice in the Egyptian calendar. Only the Armenian Apostolic Church has retained the precise date of January 6 as the feast day of Christmas. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant Churches, and Evangelical Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Gregorian calendar, which is the current civil calendar. St. Emmanuel’s Day was set late in the Western Roman Empire, around the middle of the fourth century.
Constituting with Easter one of the great Christian festivals, Christmas has gradually taken on local traditions, a mixture of innovation and maintenance of ancient folklore, to the point of presenting the aspect of a popular secular festival with many variations in time and space. The association of the memory of a birth has facilitated the central place taken by the family in the meaning and the unfolding of this celebration. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has emphasized this aspect since the establishment in 1893 of the feast of the “Holy Family” on the Sunday following December 25. The gifts, in the form of strenae, seem to be a reminiscence of the gifts made on the Roman Saturnalia feasts in December (strenae).
The Christmas animations are numerous and varied. Some are more symbolic and recurrent than others such as Christmas trees, Christmas shows and Christmas markets. All of them have the primary objective of bringing the dream and magic associated with Christmas, in part for children.
Two types of Christmas trees are seen: private Christmas trees (usually internal to companies) and public Christmas trees. Private Christmas trees are usually composed of shows and animations with disguised protagonists: Public Christmas trees are different: a large Christmas tree near a Christmas market with, sometimes, a Santa Claus who agrees to pose for pictures.
Christmas shows are often private. For works councils a few weeks before Christmas or simply for the general public. The principle is to give children a dream, on the theme of Christmas, by telling them life-size stories, by handing out flyers; the characters animating this event are disguised. At Place-des-Arts in Montreal, the holiday tradition consists of the presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, directed by Fernand Nault. Performances take place from mid-December to December 31. Les Grands ballets canadiens has a foundation, The Nutcracker Foundation, which allows underprivileged children to attend the show. In addition, before each performance, an actor recites the story of The Nutcracker to the children to help them better understand what will happen on stage. At that time, a draw is held among children between the ages of 6 and 10 to choose someone who will play the role of a mouse in the scene of the battle of the toy soldiers against the Mouse King.
The evening of December 24th is in the vast majority of cases, spent with the family.
In France, three-quarters of the French consider Christmas to be primarily a family or business celebration. The Christmas meal is the festive meal, consisting of Christmas turkey, seafood, foie gras, etc. It traditionally ends with the Christmas log, a dessert in the shape of a small log; the latter is often a rolled cake covered with chocolate cream, sometimes it is ice cream. This log is reminiscent of the ancient tradition of setting a large log on fire in the early evening. This log was chosen for its size and quality because it had to burn throughout the evening.
In other parts of the world, the traditional menu for this meal is quite different. In Japan, couples usually celebrate Christmas as a romantic evening in a restaurant, or at home with the family for those with young children. In Eastern Europe (Poland), this meal is strictly “lean”, therefore vegetarian; no meat or cold cuts are served during the Christmas dinner. Meat is served only at lunch the following day, the first day of Christmas, which is dedicated to the strict family circle between children and parents. It is only on the second day of the holidays that people visit, having lunch or dinner with extended family (uncles, aunts) or friends.
In charge of bringing gifts, he is represented as an old man with a long white beard and a red tassel. This image is accompanied by a whole folklore: a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer, a letter asking for gifts for him, his bag full of toys, etc.
This character is notably popularized by Charles Dickens and his five Christmas Books, the first of which, A Christmas Carol (in its original version), was published in 1843. The first mention of “Santa Claus” in French was found in 1855 by George Sand. One of his first performances dates from 1868, drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Originally, the character was dressed in either green or red, depending on the fantasy of the illustrators.
If he is inspired by the Christian Saint Nicholas, especially by his clothes, he can also be likened to Julenisse, a Scandinavian elf who had the same function at the mid-winter feast, jul, in Norwegian, (or “Jol” or “Midtvintersblot” corresponds to the winter solstice) and helped with the farm work.
The gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day with the people gathered under the same roof, and in the following days with family and close friends. These gifts are well wrapped in colorful patterned paper. They are opened on Christmas morning, or sometimes at the end of Christmas Eve. For children, these gifts are essentially toys and Christmas is the time when toy dealers make most of their sales.
The tradition of giving gifts is maintained outside of any Christian context. Gérald Berthoud, professor of cultural and social anthropology at the University of Lausanne, explains it as follows: “The Christmas period, which is very ceremoniously busy, has a certain ritual intensity. Even if we live fundamentally in a mercantile society, there is something in [the] exchange of gifts [at Christmas] that is of the order of gift and is universal in its principle: they create, maintain and consolidate bonds; they constitute a kind of matrix of the social. »
Present both inside homes and in the streets, they give a festive air. They are often luminous so that they can be turned on as soon as night falls.
The Christmas tree, always present inside the houses, is in charge of decorating and grouping Christmas presents in families. The oldest written trace related to a Christmas tree tradition would come from Alsace: in Strasbourg in 1492 or in Sélestat in 1521, or even in Germany. Some authors make the connection with the mysteries, plays played in churches or on the squares: at Christmas time, the biblical stories of the Creation of the world were represented, and a fir tree represented the tree of life planted in the middle of the earthly paradise. The tree was decorated with oblatas (offerings, small sweets that represent hosts) and apples representing the forbidden fruit, the object of the first sin.
However, the tradition of a decorated tree is much older, since the Celts already decorated a tree as a symbol of life at the time of the winter solstice. The Scandinavians did the same for the feast of Jul, which took place around the same date as Christmas. The installation of this tree was considered a pagan practice until the middle of the 20th century by the Catholic Church. Prohibited in the USSR as part of the anti-religious policy of the State, the Christmas tree was again authorized by Joseph Stalin in 1934, but only on condition that it be erected from then on to celebrate the New Year.
In France, this tradition, initially confined to Alsace, was popularized by Alsatians who emigrated to “France from the interior” after the War of 1870.
The Christmas market consists of stalls, usually made of wood and built for the occasion, which offer small decorative items, toys and gifts, often handmade. In France, the tradition of Christmas markets, alive in the East (Alsace), spread to the rest of the country during the 1990’s. Christmas markets generally run from the end of November to the end of December.
Historically, they present artisanal products dedicated to Christmas. This type of event continues over time even though the nature of the products tends to become more and more industrial and heterogeneous.
Christmas is the second of the five cardinal feasts of the Catholic liturgical year.
Advent and Celebrations
Advent is the liturgical period that encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas. Since the 19th century in Northern Europe, more recently in France, Christians have been preparing 4 candles. Every Sunday they light a candle, then one more each following Sunday. These candles symbolize the light that will be reborn on Christmas Eve. These candles are often gathered on the same support, the most common being a wreath shape on which the candles are distributed. This wreath is called an Advent wreath. In Northern Europe and the United States, such a wreath, without a candle, can be hung outside the front door of a home. It is usually made of small leafy branches held by colored ribbons.
From this period was born the tradition of the Advent calendar: it consists of a large pre-cut cardboard board, in which small windows open, one per day from December 1st until Christmas (24 days). Each window contains a sentence from the Gospel (Christian version), or a small candy or toy (secular version).
From a liturgical point of view, religious communities and some Catholic churches, during Vespers before Christmas, respect the ancient great antiphons O and the hymn Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. Usually sung between December 17 and 23, they symbolize a crescendo of expectation for the arrival of the Messiah. Certain traditions, particular to these antiphons, are sometimes still very much alive.
Among Catholics, the midnight mass on the evening of December 24th celebrates the Nativity of Jesus. Traditionally it began at midnight; today [When?] it takes place more and more often in the early evening. The Catholic liturgical calendar provides for a cycle of four Masses for Christmas. The midnight Mass is the second.
The nativity scene depicts the birth of Jesus described in the New Testament with some popular symbols added: on a table, or on the floor, a miniature stable is built in which figures (often in terracotta) are placed. They represent the parents of Jesus, the shepherds gathered around the newborn child and the animals that accompany them: the shepherds’ sheep, the donkey that carried the Virgin, and the ox that occupied the stable. Sometimes the angels who announced the birth to the shepherds are also present.
The first crib would have been made by Francis of Assisi in 1223 in Greccio, Italy; it would have been a living crib, i.e. incarnated by real people. Since the eighteenth century, the tradition of the crib has been carried on throughout the Catholic world, and it greatly overflowed during the nineteenth century. In Provence, new characters were added: the santons. They often depict the traditional trades of the 19th century or scenes of daily life in the region. The Magi Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar, three scholars of the time of Jesus, are represented on their way to the same stable, but their arrival is only celebrated at the Epiphany. They symbolize the universality of the event that is the birth of Jesus.
With the de-Christianization of Christmas in Canada and the United States, a Christmas village is placed under the tree in families where it is preferred not to have a manger. We then find small ceramic buildings (school, church, little houses, stores, etc.) representing a village decorated for Christmas and covered with snow. They are placed on a cotton mat to make it look as if the ground was covered with snow. Sometimes, some will add a railroad and install a small electric train that passes through the village. In Christian families, there is sometimes a combination of the crib and the Christmas village.
Some Protestant churches also celebrate a Christmas service on the evening of December 24th. This is the case of the Scandinavian Lutheran Churches. However, the majority of Protestants prefer to celebrate the Christmas service on the morning of December 25, at the same time as a Sunday service. Protestants [Which ones?] will adopt the tree as early as the Reformation of 1560 as the symbol of the tree of paradise.
The feast of Christmas is celebrated by the majority of evangelical Christians [insufficient source], [insufficient source]. It is a reminder of God’s grace and the birth of the Savior Jesus. At a meeting, either on December 24 or December 25, the message will often be linked to the nativity and the impact of this event in the lives of those who have accepted Jesus, who have experienced the new birth.
Long before the appearance of Christianity, the time of the winter solstice was already a pivotal period of the year, which brought together many pagan beliefs relating to fertility, motherhood, procreation and astronomy. It thus gave rise to many events. These ancient traditions have many similarities with the Christian feast.
Fixing Christmas Day
Before the Christianization of the West, a feast called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the day of the birth of the undefeated sun”, was set on December 25 by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in 274, as the great feast of the cult of Sol Invictus (the undefeated sun). Aurelian thus chose a date close to the winter solstice, corresponding to the day after the end of the traditional Roman Saturnalia [ref. necessary] but also to the day on which the birth of the solar deity Mithra is celebrated. Aurelian indeed wishes to religiously unify the empire,, by choosing this date he satisfies the followers of Sol Invictus and the cult of Mithra while placing the feast in the continuity of the traditional Roman festivities.
The first mention of a Christian celebration on December 25 took place in Rome in 336. Christianity thus became in turn one of the cults and religions of the Roman Empire celebrating a festivity during this period of the year. The anniversary of the birth of Jesus being unknown, it is very likely that December 25th was chosen in order to adopt the customs related to this date “by giving them a new meaning”. On the other hand, according to some, it is possible that a text attributed to Hippolytus of Rome in 204 inspired the choice of the date.
Near Eastern Antiquity
Similarities are attested between certain traditions and symbols associated with Christian Christmas and other cults that preceded Christianity: the date of December 25th, the cave, the shepherds.
In the Mithraic cult that appeared in Persia, the most important feast – the Mithragan – would have taken place every year on the day of the winter solstice, a day celebrating the birth of the divinity and the victory of light over darkness. According to the most widespread mithraic tradition in the Roman Empire, Mithras was born “springing from the rock” (petrogen) or from a cave – an element eminently linked to the worship of this deity -, in the form of a man “in the height of his youth” (and not a baby) equipped with a torch and a sword, while shepherds attend this miraculous birth. The celebrations of the Mithraic cult, strongly developed in the Greco-Roman Empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries, will later be one of the origins of the celebration of the Roman feast of Natalis Invicti, the birth of Sol Invictus who regains his strength and makes the day regain the night, December 25th.
Influence on Christianity
The Mithraic narrative will probably influence the Christian literary and iconographic tradition of the first centuries in the descriptions of the birth of Jesus. Some of the episodes in the Gospels are readapted using themes and symbols reminiscent of mitraism. The cult of Mithras is not the only “pagan” influence on the development of Christian iconography. According to Robert Turcan, for example, the traditional representations of the Virgin and Child (a theme relating to the childhood of Jesus and not only to his birth) are inspired by the representations of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing Horus as a child.
Some authors go further, claiming that the Gospel accounts related to the birth of Jesus may have been borrowed from older mythologies. For example, Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi argues that there is a popular Mithraic-Mazdean tradition, which would present the mother goddess Anahita (or Anahid) as the mother of Mithra/Mithras and a virgin, and which may have influenced early Christian authors. This thesis is taken from the work of Prof. Mohammad Moqadam on Mithraism. Moqadam bases his thesis mainly on Persian beliefs about Jesus in the Islamic period (in which he identifies an older “second messiah”), on a medieval Zoroastrian tradition according to which Saoshyant (a messianic figure) was born of a virgin, and on an out-of-context quotation from the Vardan Story by the Christian author Elisha the Vardapet. He identifies Anahita as an “immaculate virgin” probably because of her name, meaning “without stain”, and more likely due to her role as goddess of water or rivers. Since Anahita is not normally identified as the mother of Mithra, this theory remains marginal.
In Judaism, the feast of Hanukkah, which commemorates the re-inauguration of the Temple of Jerusalem desecrated by the ancient Greeks, was set on the 25th of the ninth lunar month, called Kislev, (Hebrew calendar) near the winter solstice. The first book of the Maccabees emphasizes the importance of this date and celebration.
In ancient Rome, citizens celebrated Saturnalia: first from December 17 to 21 and later from December 17 to 24, men and women wore garlands around their necks and offered each other all kinds of gifts. People also symbolically sacrificed a mannequin representing a young man, in order to convey the vitality of the figure in the New Year. It should be noted that the fixing of the winter solstice on December 25 is due to an error made by the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria, during the reform of the calendar at the initiative of Julius Caesar in 46 BC, who fixed the beginning of the seasons one or two days later than the reality.
The Feast of the Signillaries, the “ancestor” of New Year’s Eve, concluded the festivities at the end of December. During this time of changeover to the year nine, people offered each other small terracotta gifts, the slaves became the masters and vice versa.
From the reign of Aurelian (270-275), the Romans officially celebrated the Sol Invictus (the undefeated sun) at the time of the winter solstice which began the new year, announced by the lengthening of the days. This cult, which takes up aspects of the mythology of Apollo and the cult of Mithra, spread in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. and concluded with the sacrifice of a bull, the Sol Invictus corresponding to the birth of the young solar god who, taking up the Mithraic traditions, was supposed to emerge from a rock or a cave in the form of a young man.
Birth of Jesus Christ
No Christian text specifies which day in the year Jesus of Nazareth was born. Since, according to the Christmas stories in the Bible, the flocks are outdoors with their shepherds, some authors have deduced that Jesus’ birth probably did not take place in winter. The early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in the same way that Christians do today. Moreover, for almost three centuries, Christians do not seem to have celebrated any other annual feast than Easter. It was not until more than three and a half centuries after Jesus Christ that Christmas became an official religious holiday and another two centuries before it became a general holiday.
The celebration of Christmas as the birth day of Jesus of Nazareth led to the gradual Christianization of certain traditions related to the feast of Sol Invictus,,. Following the Edict of Thessaloniki forbidding pagan cults, the Christian Christmas (from the Latin Natalis) became the only Roman festivity that could be celebrated on December 25th and spread throughout the empire, of which Christianity became the only official religion. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the feast of Yule was replaced in the same way during the Christianization of the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. Christmas became one of the most important Christian festivals during the medieval period and was spread to the rest of the world during the colonization and contemporary westernization. Nevertheless, as its celebration was not required by biblical sources and still retaining many pagan elements, it was rejected by certain Christian groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the restored Church of God, or the Christian Churches of God.
Christmas is not one of the feasts followed by the first Christians and does not appear in the lists published by Irenaeus of Lyon and Tertullian. It was from the third century onwards that certain Christian communities tried to locate the date of Jesus’ birth in the year. Many dates were proposed: January 6 (corresponding to the Epiphany, a date chosen by the Basilidians towards the end of the second century and taken up by the Christian communities of the East), March 28 (mentioned in De Pascha Computus, a calendar of feasts dating from 243), November 18 (date proposed by Clement of Alexandria)… Theologically, Christ’s royalty not being of this world, some like Origen (mid 3rd century) even refuse to celebrate this birth as it was done at the time for a temporal sovereign (king, emperor, pharaoh, queen). According to Pope Benedict XVI, Hippolytus of Rome would have been “the first to state clearly that Jesus was born on December 25 […], in his commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, written around the year 204. Indeed, in some versions of this text, a passage situates the birth of Jesus “eight days before the calendars of January”, which would correspond to the date of December 25.
Gradually, the desire to historicize the birth of Jesus Christ will appear. From the fourth century onwards, a feast of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, translated as Epiphany and Christmas, will take place alongside the older feasts of Easter and Pentecost in the Christian liturgical calendar in composition. Also in the fourth century, the date of December 25th was chosen as the date for the feast of Christmas, mainly in order to substitute it for the pagan feasts that were customary at the time, such as the feast of the rebirth of the Undefeated Sun (Sol Invictus), the winter solstice and the Roman Saturnalia, all of which took place in the period of December 25th, “giving them a new meaning”. The oldest document mentioning a Christian celebration on this date of December 25 is the Chronograph of 354 (referring to reviews dating back to at least 336).
Beginning of the Christian era
In Rome, under the pontificate of Bishop Libertus (between 352 and 366), a feast of the Incarnation of the Savior took place on December 25, on the occasion of which the bishop gathered Christians in the newly built basilica in the Vatican, completed in 354, in a more general framework that appears to be that of the constitution of a liturgical calendar destined to compete, in Rome, with pagan festivities. The Fathers of the Church did not oppose this syncretism about the Nativity, considering that this choice of calendar could not give rise to theological heresies and that it confirmed the coming of the Messiah announced as the “rising star” and as the “sun of justice” by the prophet Malachi. Christmas thus replaced the celebrations of the pagan feast all the more easily since, with the help of biblical references, it developed to metaphorically qualify the newborn Christ as a whole symbol of the “true sun”, the “new sun” shining on the world. Christian Christmas can thus be seen as a counter-festival by Christians to the pagan Christmas.
However, this thesis of a counter-festival is currently being questioned by some historians, because if the feast of Sol Invictus framed by the Saturnalia and the calendars of January is well attested, they consider the evidence of its celebration on the specific date of December 25, before Christmas, to be weak. The Christian celebration of Christmas may have filled a void: “the impression remains that, for Christians, the two feasts (December 25 and January 6) are added to the traditional celebrations of Saturnalia and calendars. Instead of breaking with ancient practices, there is a strong temptation to extend the festive season by devoting nearly two weeks to it. It is therefore possible that the choice of December 25 as the date commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, in the fourth century, “does not respond to a concern to neutralize a pagan feast, but rather to a concern to take advantage of cosmic symbolism and the evidence of the solstice for all the faithful… The Fathers of the Church would have chosen December 25 precisely because this date, although rich in cosmic significance, did not coincide with a great pagan feast.
Then the celebrations of the nativity season will gradually expand, following the example of the Easter cycle, with a preparation period of two to four weeks – Advent – and then a period that continues until the conclusion of the cycle with the celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which takes place on February 2 at Candlemas. Since it does not correspond to the Hebrew calendar, unlike the other two feasts that follow the lunar calendar, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ will follow the solar calendar, which will not be without problems in determining the liturgical year.
In 425, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II officially codified the ceremonies of the Christmas festival. This commemoration gradually spread throughout Gaul and the East.
Clovis is baptized on Christmas Eve of a year between 496 and 506.
In 506, the Council of Agde makes Christmas a feast of obligation.
In 529, Emperor Justinian made it a holiday.
In 800, Charlemagne is crowned Emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day.
In 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.
In the 5th century under the pontificate of Gregory the Great, midnight mass was already celebrated. In the 7th century, it became customary in Rome to celebrate three masses: the vigil on the evening of December 24th, the dawn mass and the day mass on December 25th. The forty days before Christmas became the “forty days of Saint Martin” in honor of Saint Martin of Tours.
Christmas continues to spread gradually in Europe: end of the 5th century in Ireland, 7th century in England, 8th century in Germany, 9th century in Scandinavian countries, 9th and 10th centuries in Slavic countries. The festival is part of the liturgical calendar and involves a period of fasting, Advent. People decorate their houses with holly and greenery, they dress in new clothes. Apart from the midnight mass, which marks the beginning of the liturgical year, there are many collective celebrations (notably the Feast of the Mad, during which the Pope, the Bishop of Madmen, the Abbot of the fools are elected, characters who are, for a fixed period of time, kings of Christmas), many festivities (songs and dances, various games of chance or skill, especially dice) and copious meals (dishes made from fattened beef or goose). The children, often in costume, form bands of guisarts (dressed in Old French) who go from house to house, singing and presenting their wishes, receiving in exchange fruits, cakes or a few coins.
Around the year 1000, the Church relies on the importance of the Christmas season to impose on the warring lords a period of forced peace, the Truce of God.
Beginning in the 12th century, the religious celebration was accompanied by liturgical dramas, the “mysteries,” which featured the adoration of the shepherds or the procession of the Magi. These liturgical dramas were first performed in the churches, then spread to the parvis.
From the Renaissance onwards
The first cribs resembling those we know (occasional and passing Nativity scenes no longer with paintings, frescoes, mosaics or bas-reliefs but with “independent” statues) appeared in churches and convents in the 16th century, first in Italy. They spread to the homes of aristocrats in the seventeenth century, when Christmas became not only a religious festival celebrated in church but also a more intimate family celebration.
In the reformed countries, Christmas celebrations, considered too pagan or too Catholic, were limited. Prohibited in England from 1647, they were reinstated in 1660 but remained frowned upon by the majority of the English clergy. In North America in Boston, the first settlers forbid Christmas celebrations. The ban was lifted in 1681.
It is only in the 18th century that the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the craftsmen made Christmas a sacred family day. During the first industrial revolution, a process was put in place that combined gifts, trade and moments of generosity towards children. Contrary to popular belief, it is not to Victorian England and then Roosevelt’s America that we owe the contemporary form of the family Christmas celebration with its tree and wrapped gifts. This ritual appeared in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, under the influence of the German pastor Friedrich Schleiermacher who was at the origin of the theology of sentiment and who advocated a new Christmas sensibility centered on the child. According to the German theologian, the joy of the child “should be expressed not in churches around controversial and arranged elements of Christ’s life, but within the family through the sensitive experience of the divine presence.
In 1893, the Catholic Church enriched the Christmas season by establishing the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday immediately following Christmas. With the gradual improvement in the standard of living, the feast centered around children and gifts spread at that time among the working classes.
With the globalization of cultural exchanges and the secularization of society, Christmas festivities are gradually taking on a secular and family character and are increasingly disconnected from religious interpretation. Nevertheless, Christmas is a holiday in some countries and sometimes gives rise to school vacations that bring families together.
Nowadays, it is forbidden to celebrate Christmas in Somalia and the Sultanate of Brunei.