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11th Grade

Winter holidays

Boy w/present near Christmas tree

What is Christmas?


The word Christmas comes from the words "Christ's Mass." Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus for members of the Christian religion. Most historians peg the first celebration of Christmas to Rome in 336 A.D.
Christmas is both a holiday and a holy day. In America it is one of the biggest event of the year (especially for kids), and for members of the Christian religions it is an important day on the religious calendar.


Is December 25 really the day Jesus was born?

No one really knows. What is known is that Christian leaders in 336 A.D. set the date to December 25, in an attempt to eclipse a popular pagan holiday in Rome that celebrated the winter solstice. Originally, the celebration of Christmas involved a simple mass, but over time, Christmas has replaced a number of other holidays in many other countries, and a large number of traditions have been absorbed into the celebration in the process.


Why is Christmas such a big deal?

There are two reasons why Christmas is such a big deal:

      There are about 2 billion Christians in a total world population of 5.5 billion, making it the largest religion worldwide. In America, 241 million out of a total population of 281 million people are Christians -- that's 85 percent. Because Christians follow Jesus, the birth of Jesus is important to them.

      In America, the weeks leading up to Christmas are the biggest shopping weeks of the year. Many retailers make up to 70 percent of their annual revenue in the month preceding Christmas. Therefore, retailers hype the event beyond belief.

Christmas was largely a non-event in America until the 1860s. 1867 was the first year that Macy's department store in New York City remained open until midnight on Christmas Eve. 1874 was the year of the first window displays with a Christmas theme at Macy's. It has snowballed from there.

Why do people give each other presents on Christmas day?

The tradition of gifts seems to have started with the gifts that the wise men (the Magi) brought to Jesus. As mentioned in the previous question, however, no one was really in the habit of exchanging elaborate gifts until late in the 1800s. The Santa Claus story and amazing shopping campaigns have made gift giving a central focus of the modern Christmas tradition.

Why is there a small evergreen tree in the living room?

When you think of Christmas, one of the first things you probably think of is a Christmas tree. In fact, the Christmas tree is one of the most recognizable images of the season. Almost everywhere you go in Europe or America, it is the focal point of people's holiday decoration. People pile their gifts under the tree. They gather around their tree to sing Christmas carols and drink eggnog.

This is a German tradition, started as early as 700 A.D. In the 1800s the tradition of a Christmas tree was widespread in Germany, then moved to England and then to America through Pennsylvanian German immigrants.


Who is this Santa Claus person?

Santa Claus started with a real person, Saint Nicholas, a bishop from the fourth century. Nicholas' reputation for generosity and kindness gave rise to legends of miracles he performed for the poor and unhappy. The legends say he had given gold to three poor girls and restored to life three children who had been murdered. In the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Russia and Greece. Nicholas' miracles were a favorite subject for medieval artists and plays.

After the Reformation, Nicholas' cult disappeared in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland, where his legend persisted as Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists took this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.

Sinterklaas was adopted by the country's English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.

Christmas decorations on tree

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Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted
 ~Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821
R. M. Hutchins