by Annette Francine
The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. From this, we get the name Christ-Mass, shortened to Christmas.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December.
There are many different traditions and theories as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. A very early Christian tradition said that March 25th was the day when Mary was told she’d give birth to Jesus (called the Annunciation). And nine months later, of course, would be December 25th. But the Bible doesn’t mention Jesus’ exact birthday, and the Nativity story contains conflicting clues. For instance, the presence of shepherds and their sheep suggest a spring birth.
December 25th might also have been chosen because cultures around the Mediterranean and across Europe observed feasts on or around December 25th, marking the winter solstice. The Jews had a festival of lights. Germans had a yule festival. Celtic legends connected the solstice with Balder, the Scandinavian sun god who was struck down by a mistletoe arrow. At the pagan festival of Saturnalia, Romans feasted and gave gifts to the poor. Drinking was closely connected with these pagan feasts. At some point, a Christian bishop may have adopted the day to keep his people from indulging in the old pagan festivals.
When church officials settled on December 25th at the end of the third century, they likely wanted the date to coincide with these festivals in order to more easily convince Rome’s pagan subjects to accept Christianity as the empire’s official religion.
The practice of exchanging gifts is believed to have originated after a group of sailors who idolized Bishop Nicholas (among the most senior bishops who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and created the New Testament) moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy in 1087. There Nicholas supplanted a female boon-giving deity called The Grandmother, or Pasqua Epiphania, who was said to fill the children’s stockings with her gifts. Nicholas’ cult members gave each other gifts during a pageant they conducted annually on the anniversary of Nicholas’ death, December 6th. This cult spread north until it was adopted by German and Celtic pagans. These groups worshipped a pantheon led by Woden – their chief god and the father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw. Woden had a long, white beard and rode a horse through the heavens one evening each Autumn. When Nicholas ‘merged’ with Woden, he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing. In a bid for pagan adherents in Northern Europe, the Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult practice, teaching that they should distribute gifts on December 25th instead of December 6th.
Regardless of the foundations of your winter celebration, I wish you delightful festivities. May your blessings be innumerable, the time spent with loved ones particularly special and joyful, and may 2016 bring you an abundance of the things you treasure (such as romance?!!). Health, happiness, and prosperity everyone!
Annette Francine writes suspenseful romance…with a Christian twist. Be sure to connect with her at annettefrancine.com and Facebook. Annette’s books can be found in digital and/or paperback formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.