From the birth of Jesus to modern times, Christmas has been filled with wonder, celebration, and feelings of deep devotion.
In the intervening centuries, Christmas has become a much beloved tradition that includes not only religious rites and ceremonies, but a season marked by some of the biggest family celebrations of the year.
While biblical references do not set an exact date, the early Church specified December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ who was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Historians conclude that the Church picked the day to closely coincide with ancient pagan Winter Solstice rituals that helped to lighten the dark days of winter.
In ancient times, the Yule log
helped chase away evil spirits
throughout a dark winter.
A modern Christmas, therefore, has become a blending of both Christian and pre-Christian traditions.
The ancient pagan Yule festival still survives today in winter feasting that occurs around Christmas, along with the tradition of the Yule log whose embers were believed to have helped frighten away evil spirits. The custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas also harks back to Druid and other pre-Christian traditions.
While Jesus is still "the reason for the season" in many Christian communities, echoes of pre-Christian times remain in festive holiday lights, or the reassuring comfort of a hearth fire to help brighten a long, gloomy winter.
A modern Christmas
Many of the world's more modern and popular Christmas customs can be traced to back to the 19th century, an era that saw the rise of the Christmas greeting card in the UK and US and, in Germany, the widespread popularity of the advent calendar.
The era was also responsible for the now-familiar image of a jolly St. Nick (see illustration, upper right), first made popular by famous editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Christmas by the 20th century was a full-blown commercial holiday as department stores reveled in the season of gift-giving ... and Christmas sales. Now a very popular tradition, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally staged in 1924 as an ealry call for customers to begin the Christmas shopping season..
Today, the old traditions have given way to Black Friday sales and commercial hoopla, critics say, as the meaning of Christmas is lost in over-spending, over-eating, and over-imbibing.
Allthough for the very young Christmas will always be....Christmas -- as the sight of toys and gifts that magically appear under the tree on Christmas morning truly make this the most wonderful time of the year.
Around the Web, trace the full origins of the holiday with some of the best illustrated histories online - from the birth of Jesus to the origins of the Christmas tree and Santa Claus, to centuries-old festive winter traditions still observed in countries around the world...
History Channel - Christmas - As only the History Channel can do it, with a great, illustrated narrative on the origins of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, world traditions and more.
Christmas worldwide - The grand sweep from Wikipedia with information on Christmas in dozens of countries highlighted with photos, related references and resources.
Christmas Celebrations Around the World - Read first person accounts of traditions at Christmas in countries throughout Europe as well as the USA.