The History of Christmas

We continue our exploration of the history of winter holidays with Christmas, a celebration to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The date, December 25th, does not correspond with Jesus’ actual date of birth, which is unknown. In the Roman Julian calendar, introduced in 45 BCE, the winter solstice was marked on December 25th, during the festival of Saturnalia to honor the god of agriculture. In the 4th century AD, Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is believed the Church chose this date for the ‘Feast of the Nativity’ in order to adopt some of the traditions associated with the Saturnalia celebration.

For more information on Christmas, including the origins of Santa Claus, a look at the association of evergreen trees with Christmas, and a world tour to see how the holiday is celebrated in other countries, visit the History Channel feature story The History of Christmas.

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