The history of Christmas dates back to over 4000 years. The midwinter festivities were observed to celebrate the turning point between the old year and the New Year. The word for Christ in Greek is Xristos, so Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name X in place of the word Christ. Eventually, X-Mas came to be both, an accepted and suitable alternative to the word Christmas. Many of today’s Christmas traditions were observed centuries before Christ was born. The twelve days of Christmas, the Yule log, the exchange of gifts, carnivals, grand holiday feasts and church processions have originated from the customs observed by early Mesopotamians.
The ancient Persians and Babylonians celebrated a similar festival, called the Sacaea. The celebration included the exchanging of places within the community where the masters would become slaves and vice-verse. In Scandinavia the first light of sun (after a long winter spell) was celebrated with a festival called the Yuletide. A special feast was held around a fire burning with the Yule log. Bonfires would also be lit to celebrate return of the Sun.
Although December 25th is generally accepted as birth day of Christ, the exact date has never been established with accuracy. There is neither scriptural nor secular evidence to confirm the exact time. However, in 350 A.D. Julius I (Bishop of Rome) selected 25th December as Christ’s birth date. This date was made official in 375 A.D. since it was formally announced that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on this day. Some of the older customs were also incorporated into the observance of Christmas. The use of greenery for decoration purpose continued to be prohibited (a pagan custom) but over the centuries, this became an accepted custom.
Today, 25th December is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the world. Christmas traditions can startlingly vary from country to country, but they all share the wonder and magic of the holiday season. Whether you re celebrating Christmas in China or in France, you re sharing the spirit of the Christmas season.
Christmas Celebrations in BethlehemBethlehem is said to be the birth place of Jesus Christ. Naturally, Christmas here is a major event and the festival is a grand affair. Bethlehem consists of different Christian denominations - Catholics, Protestants, Greek, Ethiopians, Armenians and more. Hence, the festival is celebrated on different days.
While Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas Day on 25th December, Greek, Syrian and other Orthodox Christians observe it on 6th January. The Armenian Christians celebrate the day on 18th January. Therefore, Bethlehem witnesses longer Christmas celebrations than many other places.
Christmas Celebrations in AustraliaIn Australia, 25th December falls during summer season, so many of the country’s Christmas festivities take place outdoors. One of the most popular events of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight, where people gather at night to light candles and sing carols under the shining stars.
Christmas Celebrations in ChinaThe small community of Christians in China celebrate this day as Sheng Dan Jieh (meaning Holy birth festival). They decorate their homes with greenery, posters and bright paper buntings. A Christmas tree called a tree of light, is decorated with beautiful lanterns, flowers and red paper chains (symbolising happiness). Red pagoda cut outs are pasted on the windows and paper lanterns are also used to decorate the house.
Christmas Celebrations in EnglandIt is cold and foggy in England during Christmas season. A day before Christmas everyone wraps gifts, bake cookies and hang stockings over the fireplace. Everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to hear the narration of a classic holiday story- A Christmas Carol. Children write a letter to Santa with their wishes and toss the letter into the fire so that their wishes can go up through the chimney. After the children fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Father Santa comes to visit them.
Christmas Celebrations in FranceChristmas celebrations in France begin on 5th December, which is St. Nicholas Eve. But Christmas Eve is the most special time in the French celebration of Christmas. The Church bells ring and French carols called Noels are sung. On Christmas Day, families go to church and later on enjoy a lavish feast of wonderful dishes. The feast is concluded with the traditional buche de Noel (a rich cream-filled cake shaped like a Yule log).
Christmas Celebrations in GermanyGermans prepare for Christmas throughout the month of December. An Advent wreath of fir or pine branches (that has four coloured candles) is prepared four Sundays before Christmas. They light a candle on the wreath each Sunday, sing Christmas carols and feast on Christmas desserts. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, homes are filled with the delightful aroma of freshly baked breads, cakes filled with candied fruits and spicy cookies called Pfeffernüsse.
Christmas Celebrations in MexicoThe weather is warm and pleasant in Mexico during the Christmas season. Mexicans shop for gifts, ornaments and eatables in the market stalls (called puestos).Homes are decorated with lilies and evergreens. The family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns (farolitos). They place a candle inside the lanterns and place them along sidewalks, on windowsills and rooftops to illuminate the community with the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas Celebrations in SwedenIn Sweden, the Christmas festivities begin on 13th December with St. Lucia s Day. The eldest daughter wakes up before dawn and dresses up as the Queen of Light in a long white attire. She also wears a crown of leaves. The Lucia Queen goes to every bedroom to serve coffee and treats to each family member, while singing Santa Lucia. The younger children in the family also help. The whole family participates in the selection of Christmas tree a day or two before Christmas.
Christmas Celebrations in RussiaIn Russia, Christmas is celebrated on 7th January (thanks to the Russian Orthodox Church) although some Russians also celebrate it on 25th December. The main religion in Russia is called the Russian Orthodox, which is more than thousand years old and most of the Christian population in the country belong to it. Many people don’t eat meat, eggs or milk from a few weeks before Christmas and it is mandatory to fast until the first church service on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. A typical Christmas dinner however, includes delicacies such as Russian pies made out of meat or Pirog and meat dumplings or Pelmeni. Another popular dish relished at this time of the year is Kutya. Some traditional ingredients used for its preparation are wheat, honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness and success. Russia celebrates a white Christmas since it witnesses heavy snowfall.