7 Quick Facts about Christmas

1) The first Christmas included a visit from the shepherds at what was most likely a back room reserved for animals in an Israelite home, or even a cave. The wise men, who were ancient astrologers, not kings, visited the family up to 2 years later.

2) December 25th may have been chosen as the date to mark the birth of Christ in the 3rd or 4th century because of its proximity to the Winter solstice and its relation to the pagan sun god. Christ, the true light of the nations, was polemically set against these celebrations to proclaim his lordship over them (although some contest this claim)

3) Rather than being an attempt to “remove Christ from Christmas,” the abbreviation “Xmas” is a Christian short-form dating back hundreds of years. The X stands for the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός (Christ).

4) The tradition of Santa Claus, though likely a convergence of several figures, harkens back to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children and bishop of Myra (celebrated on December 6th). In some medieval images, Saint Nicholas is depicted distributing gifts to children.

5) The Christmas tree also has its origins in pagan practices that used the symbolism of evergreens to ward off evil spirits and secure life during the dark days of December and January. Like other festive elements, it was Christianized by the church, as Jesus was recognized to be the true source of life.

6) In 1659, the colony of Massachusetts, led by Puritan religious leaders, fined anyone caught celebrating Christmas. The observance was considered to be an exercise in frivolity since celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ was not explicitly commanded in the Bible.

7) Until the 20th century, gift-giving was characterized by handmade items such as fruit, baked goods, wooden toys, or needlework, while manufactured gifts began to takeover in modern Christmas celebrations after the Industrial Revolutions.

Read up on other Christian and cultural phenomena in the rest of this series:

7 Quick Facts about Thanksgiving
7 Quick Facts about Halloween
7 Quick Facts about Islam
7 Quick Facts about Cinco de Mayo
7 Quick Facts about St. Patrick’s Day
7 Quick Facts about Valentine’s Day

4 COMMENTS

    • Steve,
      Apologies for the ambiguity. The second IR was mid-late 19th century. It took this and several decades to transition to manufactured goods.
      Best,
      Andrew

  1. Thanks Andrew.

    One detail I didn’t know in which I take comfort is that the celebration of Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra is on Dec 6. That is the birth date of my late brother, who was severely mentally and physically handicapped and died when we were both teens, many years ago.

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