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Religious information, holy days & Jesus' life


Celebration of Christmas: Origins,
practices, conflicts, commercialization, etc.

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snowman Some background material:

The term "Christmas" is really an abbreviation of the Old English "Cristes mœsse" (Christ's Mass). Some people have criticized the use of the abbreviation "Xmas" because they think that it is a secular abbreviation of "Christmas." Actually, the word "Christ," which means Messiah or anointed one, is a Greek term. "X" stands for a Greek letter "chi" equivalent to the first two letters in the English word "Christ."

December 25th is not the actual anniversary of Yeshua of Nazareth's (Jesus Christ's) birthday, as many people believe. A few theologians and religious historians believe that Jesus never existed. In that case, he would not have had an actual birth day. However, the vast majority of people believe that he did exist. According to references in the Bible, it seems that he was born sometime in the fall.

Ancient people observed the daylight hours gradually shortening starting at the Summer Solstice, when the daylight hours are at their yearly maximum. They feared that the daylight hours might continue to shorten and perhaps reach zero. That would be an absolute disaster, because there would be no growing season during the next year. People would starve. So they held rituals about the time of the Winter Solstice -- the shortest daytime of the year -- to encourage the return of longer daytime hours. Since they lacked precision astronomical equipment, they were only able to guess that the Solstice happened about DEC-25.

The Roman Saturnalia was one of the the wildest of these celebrations at this time of year. Numerous Pagan and other religions had similar holy days. Christianity adopted and renamed Saturnalia as the birthday of Jesus; the rest is history.

At the time, recycling Pagan holidays into Christian holidays was a policy of the Catholic Church. The public was already familiar with celebrating a Pagan holy day at a particular time of the year. It made their transition to Christianity easier to have a Christian holy day at the same time.

Thus, the original reason for the season is the Winter Solstice about DEC-21. This is caused by the 23.5º tilt of the earth's rotation axis which produces the seasons.

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A scary Christmas message from Danish ISIS terrorists [Islamic State] in Denmark:

Webmaster recommendation: If you are going to watch it, please see it at least half-way through.

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poll symbolT'is the season to be in conflict:

There has been a lot of conflict in recent years between:

  • Those who favor the inclusive "Happy Holidays" greeting, and recognize both Christmas and the wide diversity of non-Christian and secular celebrations in late December, and

  • Those who want to maintain the traditional "Merry Christmas," thereby restricting recognition exclusively to Christmas while ignoring other celebrations.

The conflict, which has involved economic boycotts and a lot of anger, seem to have reached a peak about 2005, and dissipated in recent years. However, it is still strong today.

An example of the conflict was seen in the "Retail" comic strip for 2015-NOV-30. It shows two department store cashiers talking to Marla, their supervisor. The exchanges goes as follows:

  • Cashier 1: "Marla, are we supposed to say 'Happy Holidays' or 'Merry Christamas' at the register?"

  • Marla: "Either is fine."

  • Cashier 2: "You don't think anyone will get mad at us?"

  • Marla: "Oh, someone will definitely get mad at you."

  • Cashier 1: "Should we just say 'Have a nice day' instead?"

  • Marla: "Say whatever you want, girls. You're cashiers at Christmas time. Anger will find you eventually."

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A response to the over-commercialization of Christmas:

There is also a lot of concern over the commercialization of Christmas, and the immense amounts of spending that this involves. One evangelical Christian congregation decided to resist spending by having their members intentionally downsize their Christmas family budget. They gave half their usual budget to charity. This concept was picked up by a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Rochester, NY. The result each year is a positive experience for parents, for the children, for one local charity and for one international charity. See:

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A possible, Bible-based, change to the yearly celebration of Jesus' birthday:

One way in which we could put Christ back into Christmas, and make him the true "reason for the season," would be to reschedule Christmas from the approximate time of the Winter Solstice to the actual day of the Autumn Equinox, which occurs between September 20th and 23rd, depending on the year. Alternately, it could be set on the nominal day of the equinox, which is September 21. That would be much closer to the actual birthday of Jesus. It is a day where daytime and nighttime are in balance. Then the celebration on December-25 could be reclassified as a social and family holiday, devoid of religious meaning.

Wiccans and many other Neopagans celebrate Mabon at the time of the Autumn Equinox. But there should be little difficulty in sharing the day. It might even save lives in the Northern parts of North America because Christmas would then be timed before the snow flies which often makes traveling treacherous.

Webmaster's full disclosure: I was born in late 1936-December, only a week or so after Pope Francis and very close to Christmas. Like many children born at this time of year, I always felt that I was being shortchanged in my birthday presents because of the timing of my birthday. The above suggestion might possibly be motivated partly by selfish interests on my part. On the other hand, I might be just feeling guilty for disrupting my mother's Christmas by my birth almost eight decades ago.

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Topics in this section:

bulletChristmas stories, as interpreted by conservative & liberal Christians (Please read first)
bullet About Jesus' birth (Prophecy of his birth. The year and month when he was born)
bulletIn which town was Jesus born?
bulletWas Jesus born in a home, stable or cave?
bullet Why and when did the church select DEC-25 as Jesus' birth?

Beliefs about Christmas:

bullet A analysis by liberals of the myths surrounding the birth of Jesus
bulletA conservative Biblical analysis of Christmas

Christmas objects:

bulletThe Christmas star

bulletThe Christmas tree

Celebrations and conflicts:

bullet star Secular and other religious celebrations near Christmas time

bulletFestivus: a celebration "for the rest of us"

bullet star Conflicts about the celebration of Christmas (a.k.a. The "Christmas wars." Sadly, this is a big section)
bulletResolving conflicts over Christmas displays
bullet star Jesus's birth happened during the fall. We celebrate his birth on DEC-25 because it was the birth date of many Pagan deities:
bulletWiccan/Pagan/Neopagan celebration of the winter solstice/Yule near Christmas time

bullet A story by Rabbi Allen S. Maller: "Christmas and Chanukkah, Hanuka, Chanukah?"

bullet An article by Jim Wallis: "Starting the 'Christmas Tithe'."

Useful links to information about Christmas::


The History Channel has a videos, photos and a speech about Christmas, including its history, its traditions. the origins of Santa Claus, etc.


Elspeth M posted a very helpful article to the EngagedLeadership blog to help executive leaders minimize conflicts at Christmas time in a multi-faith workplace.

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Useful links about Christmas cards, trees, decorations, etc:


DigiPrint Christmas  has very attractive Christmas card designs that they ship worldwide. They donate a percentage of sales to charity.

bullet Christmas Farms "... is located in Hartford, MI. They are dedicated to providing the freshest, highest quality real Christmas trees, wreaths and Christmas garland conveniently delivered directly to your home." Shipping is free. has a broad range of Christmas and seasonal cards that you can send free to friends and family.

bullet Christmas Wrapped Up is a facility in the UK that has a selection of over 3,000 tree and home decorations.


Christmas Gift Baskets Send Christmas Gift Baskets and have them delivered in time.


The History Channel has a videos, photos and a speech about Christmas, including its history, its traditions. the origins of Santa Claus, etc.


Lynch Creek Wreaths sells high quality Christmas wreaths, centerpieces, holiday garlands, Christmas holly, fancy gift cards, etc. Shipping is free.

Site navigation:

Home > Religious information > here

Home > Christianity > Beliefs, practices, etc > Holy days > here

Copyright © 2000 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-30 (not the best of timing)
Latest update: 2015-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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