By Richard Wagner from Christianity For Dummies
You probably know that Christmas is celebrated on December 25. In the United States, families distribute gifts that Santa Claus left under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Many attend church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and later gather for Christmas dinner with extended family.
Christmas is the observance of Jesus’ humble birth to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem. The holiday also celebrates the events surrounding his birth, such as an angel’s appearance to shepherds, telling them to visit the newborn king.
Although the Church doesn’t consider it the most important Christian holiday, Christmas is certainly the most popular, at least in terms of cultural and social significance.
The early Church, believing that events later in Jesus’s life should be the focus, didn’t even consider it all that significant. What’s more, when Church leaders first discussed observing the birthday of Jesus, some argued against celebrating it like you would another great person in history. Nonetheless, the Church had enough pro-observance support to mark the calendar.
Neither the New Testament nor any historical record marks the exact date of Jesus’s birth. As a result, the Church initially considered many different dates, including January 2, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17, and November 20. The Western Church first observed December 25 in the fourth century, and eventually Eastern Churches followed suit.
Christmas has its origins as a pagan holiday. December 25 was selected to line up with several pagan Roman holidays that celebrated the winter solstice and worship of the sun.
Most of the traditional customs of Christmas, such as gift giving, tree decorating, light hanging, and feasting, come from sources other than the Church.
The historical roots of Santa Claus come from many sources. The earliest known inspiration for the legend comes from the fourth century in the form of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Greek Christian figure known for his generosity to the poor.
Mentions of Santa Claus types of figures appear in Germanic lore and various northern European religions that thrived before Christianity took hold. The American version of Santa Claus seems to have originated from a Dutch legend about Sinter Klaas, which settlers brought to America in the seventeenth century. Americans embraced the idea of Santa Claus, who was said to deliver gifts to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve.
To many Americans, Santa Claus embodies the spirit of giving. To celebrate the nature of Santa Claus during the Christmas holidays, many people not only give gifts to loved ones, but they also donate time and money to charities.