Christmas is celebrated during the night of December 24 to 25 and December 25 all day. As a Christian festival, it commemorates every year the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Originally, it was at that date that pagan festivities marked the winter solstice, symbol of the rebirth of the sun. The Christian festival was positioned on the same date in order to replace these parties and, symbolically, to associate the birth of Christ to the notion of increasing light.
Second to Easter, Christmas is the most important feast of the Christian liturgical calendar. That is why Christmas is a public holiday in most countries of Christian tradition. This holiday allows family reunion around a festive meal, shared worship (masses and religious services), and the exchange of gifts.
The period around Christmas is called “holiday season” and it includes the celebration of the New Year. Since the mid-twentieth century, this holidays is losing its religious aspect while keeping alive the tradition of the festival. In this spirit, Christmas has a folk connotation, preserving the grouping of family units around a meal and exchange gifts around the traditional tree.
Most Christian churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the respective liturgical calendar, which may correspond to a different day of the calendar year. To the Orthodox Churches, the liturgical calendar is based on the Julian calendar, so this date corresponds to January 7 of the current calendar year. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Gregorian calendar, which is the current calendar year. The day was set late in the Western Roman Empire during the middle of the fourth century.
It is from the third century that some Christian communities are seeking to establish the date of birth of Jesus. Before placing it on the day of a solar celebration linked to the winter solstice, many dates were proposed: January 6 (corresponding to the Epiphany, is the date chosen by the Basilideans, the late second century, and taken by Christian Oriental communities ), March 28 (mentioned in De Pascha Computus, a festive calendar dating from 243), 18 November (proposed by Clement of Alexandria) … December 25 marked since Aurélien (V.270) the celebration of Sol Invictus. For symbolic reasons, and in order to Christianize the ancient pagan festivals, this date was gradually extended throughout the Latin West. In Christianity, this date corresponds to the feast of the birth of Christ, but not his birthday. The Orthodox churches, which have retained the Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the calendar, which corresponds to January 7 on the Gregorian calendar at the winter solstice and the Egyptian calendar. Only the Armenian Apostolic Church has preserved the precise date of January 6 as the day of the Christmas celebration.
Constituent a major Christian holidays together with Easter, Christmas has been gradually responsible for local traditions, blends innovation and maintaining ancient folklore, as to present the appearance of a popular secular holiday with many variations in time and space. The combination of the memory of a birth facilitated the central role played by the family in the direction and conduct of the festival. The Roman Catholic Church insists, for example, on this aspect since the introduction in 1893 of the celebration of the “Holy Family”, following Sunday 25 December. Gifts seem reminiscent of gifts made during the Roman festival of Saturnalia in December (strenae).
The gift is present in many traditions, such as serving a meal to the first poor cross in Christmas Day, or the exceptionally generous alms given to beggars at the exit of the Office celebrated during the Christmas night. The Christmas season, that is very busy ceremonially, has a certain ritual intensity. While we basically live in a market society, there has in that gift exchange something that is of the order of the gift and that is universal in principle they create, maintain and strengthen relationships; they constitute a kind of social matrix.
The popularity of this festival determined that Christmas has become a family name and a surname in many languages spoken by the Christian peoples.