With Christmas only days away, we thought we would explore the history of Christmas. Christmas is a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December of each year. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Christmas became a secular family holiday celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, with a figure named Santa Claus playing a pivotal role.
It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century, when the practice of gift giving to family members was fully established. This was because the day reminded Christians of God’s Gift of Jesus to Humankind and the practice of giving gifts contributed to the view that Christmas was a secular holiday focused on family and friends.
The tradition of celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday is illustrated by Christmas carols and the practice of sending Christmas cards. Additionally, having a figure as the giver of gifts such as Santa Claus or St. Nicholas (in some European countries) brings together the Christian festival and the family holiday that it has now become.
In most European countries, gifts are exchanged on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, as it is believed Jesus was born that evening. Nevertheless, in North America, the morning of the 25th of December has become the time when people exchange gifts with Christmas Mass happening later in the afternoon.
As Christmas is such an important Christian day, many European countries also view the 26th of December as a second Christmas holiday. This is in line with the fact that Christmas as well as Easter celebrations should last an entire week. This in time, has been reduced to Christmas and the additional day of holiday on the 26th of December.
With the spread of Christianity outside of Europe and North America, the Christmas celebration has been brought to other societies in the non-Western world. However, as Christians do not make up most of the population in many of these countries, the customs are not the same and thus it has not become a cultural holiday. Many countries still put-up decorations and Christmas trees in the big cities as means of celebrating Western traditions.