AskDefine | Define Christmas

Dictionary Definition



1 period extending from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6 [syn: Christmastide, Christmastime, Yule, Yuletide, Noel]
2 a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Christ; a quarter day in England, Wales, and Ireland [syn: Christmas Day, Xmas, Dec 25] v : spend Christmas; "We were christmassing in New York"

User Contributed Dictionary



From late Cristes mæsse.


  • /'kɻɪs.məs/
  • /'krIs.m@s/
  • /'k@R@ss.mAhs.Ieuse.e/

Proper noun

  1. The Christian holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
    This Christmas we'll open presents then go to grandma's for dinner.
  2. The day it is celebrated, 25th December, an English quarter day.
  3. The season (traditionally from the 24th of December to the 6th of January) around the celebration of Christ's birth.
    The Christmas shoppers spent less this December, than last year, but our store will probably see just as many returned items during the twelve days of Christmas.
  4. The period from the Friday following Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, busy with shopping and preparations for Christmas.
    The last three Christmases have been good for retailers.



Christian holiday

Extensive Definition

Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It refers both to the day celebrating the birth, as well as to the season which that day inaugurates, which concludes with the Feast of the Epiphany. The date of the celebration is traditional, and is not considered to be his actual date of birth. Christmas festivities often combine the commemoration of Jesus' birth with various cultural customs, many of which have been influenced by earlier winter festivals. Although nominally a Christian holiday, it is also observed as a cultural holiday by many non-Christians.
In most places around the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25. Christmas Eve is the preceding day, December 24. In the United Kingdom and many countries of the Commonwealth, Boxing Day is the following day, December 26. In Catholic countries, Saint Stephen's Day or the Feast of St. Stephen is December 26. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6. Eastern Orthodox Churches that still use the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas on the Julian version of 25 December, which is January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar, because the two calendars are now 13 days apart.
The word Christmas originated as a contraction of "Christ's mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038, compounded from Old English derivatives of the Greek christos and the Latin missa. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ. Since the mid-16th century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ. Hence, Xmas is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.
After the conversion of Anglo-Saxon Britain in the very early 7th century, Christmas was referred to as geol,
The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in 800. Around the 12th century, the remnants of the former Saturnalian traditions of the Romans were transferred to the Twelve Days of Christmas (25 December5 January). Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival, incorporating ivy, holly, and other evergreens, as well as gift-giving.
Modern traditions have come to include the display of Nativity scenes, Holly and Christmas trees, the exchange of gifts and cards, and the arrival of Father Christmas or Santa Claus on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill and peace.

The Nativity

The Nativity of Jesus refers to the Christian belief that the Messiah was born to the Virgin Mary. The story of Christmas is based on the biblical accounts given in the Gospel of Matthew, namely - and the Gospel of Luke, specifically -. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a "stable", surrounded by farm animals, though neither the “stable” nor the animals are mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a "manger" is mentioned in Luke 2:7 where it states "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Early iconographic representations of the nativity confirm that the stable and manger were located within a cave (which still exists under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem) Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child. Christians believe that the birth of Jesus fulfilled many prophecies made hundreds of years before his birth.
Remembering or re-creating the Nativity is a central way that Christians celebrate Christmas. There is a very long tradition of the Nativity of Jesus in art. The Eastern Orthodox Church practices the Nativity Fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of the Western Church celebrates Advent. In some Christian denominations, children perform plays re-telling the events of the Nativity, or sing carols that reference the event. Some Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity, known as a Nativity scene, in their homes, using figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Live Nativity scenes, and tableaux vivants are also performed, using actors and live animals to portray the event with more realism.
Nativity scenes traditionally include the Three Wise Men, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, although their names and number are not referred to in the Biblical narrative, who are said to have followed a star, known as the Star of Bethlehem, found Jesus, and presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In the U.S., Christmas decorations at public buildings once commonly included Nativity scenes. This practice has led to many lawsuits, as groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union believe it amounts to the government endorsing a religion, which is prohibited by the United States Constitution. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lynch vs. Donnelly that a Christmas display (which included a Nativity scene) owned and displayed by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island did not violate the First Amendment.


Pre-Christian origins

A winter festival was traditionally the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included less agricultural work needing to be done during the winter, as well as people expecting longer days and shorter nights after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. In part, the Christmas celebration was created by the early Church in order to entice pagan Romans to convert to Christianity without losing their own winter celebrations.]] The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the undefeated sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270–274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin. Emperor Elagabalus (218–222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.
December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma. It was therefore the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born", Cyprian wrote. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.

Christian origins

It is unknown exactly when or why December 25 became associated with Christ's birth. The New Testament does not give a specific date. Sextus Julius Africanus popularized the idea that Christ was born on December 25 in his Chronographiai, a reference book for Christians written in AD 221.
The celebration of Christmas as a feast did not arise for some time after Chronographai was published. Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday "as if he were a king pharaoh". He contended that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays. The earliest reference to the celebration of the nativity on December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354. In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival focused on the baptism of Jesus.
Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, and to Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400. In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent. By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many of the clergy still disapproved of Christmas celebrations.
In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas; its celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom. Indeed, one of the American Revolutionaries' greatest successes was perpetuated by attacking Hessian mercenary troops on Christmas in the Battle of Trenton. By the 1820s, sectarian tension in England had eased and British writers began to worry that Christmas was dying out, in particular the writer William Winstanley played a crucial role in popularising the festival again. They imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts were made to revive the holiday. Charles Dickens's book A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, played a major role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion over communal celebration and hedonistic excess. Interest in Christmas in America was revived in the 1820s by several short stories by Washington Irving appearing in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon and "Old Christmas", and by Clement Clarke Moore's (or, possibly, by Henry Beekman Livingston) 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas). Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted holiday traditions he claimed to have observed in England. Although some argue that Irving invented the traditions he describes, they were widely imitated by his American readers. The poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas popularized the tradition of exchanging gifts and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. In her 1850 book "The First Christmas in New England", Harriet Beecher Stowe includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree. Christmas was declared a United States Federal holiday in 1870, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Santa Claus and other bringers of gifts

Originating from Western culture, where the holiday is characterized by the exchange of gifts among friends and family members, some of the gifts are attributed to a character called Santa Claus (also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or St. Nikolaus, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël, Joulupukki,Babbo Natale, Weihnachtsmann, Saint Basil and Father Frost).
The popular image of Santa Claus was created by the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902), who drew a new image annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the form we now recognize. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.
Father Christmas, who predates the Santa Claus character, was first recorded in the 15th century, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness.

Christmas tree and other decorations

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century. From Germany the custom was introduced to England, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. Around the same time, German immigrants introduced the custom into the United States. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage.
In Australia, North and South America, and to a lesser extent Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.
In the Western world, rolls of brightly-colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels.
Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

Christmas stamps

A number of nations have issued commemorative stamps at Christmastime. Postal customers will often use these stamps for the mailing of Christmas cards, and they are popular with philatelists. These stamps are regular postage stamps, unlike Christmas seals, and are valid for postage year-round. They usually go on sale some time between early October and early December, and are printed in considerable quantities.
In 1898 a Canadian stamp was issued to mark the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate. The stamp features a map of the globe and bears an inscription "XMAS 1898" at the bottom. In 1937, Austria issued two "Christmas greeting stamps" featuring a rose and the signs of the zodiac. In 1939, Brazil issued four semi-postal stamps with designs featuring the three kings and a star of Bethlehem, an angel and child, the Southern Cross and a child, and a mother and child.
The US Postal Service regularly issues both a religious-themed and a secular-themed stamp each year.

Economics of Christmas

Christmas is typically the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations. Sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas and shops introduce new products as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies. In the U.S., the "Christmas shopping season" generally begins on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, though many American stores begin selling Christmas items as early as October.
In most areas, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for business and commerce; almost all retail, commercial and institutional businesses are closed, and almost all industries cease activity (more than any other day of the year). In England and Wales, the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004 prevents all large shops from trading on Christmas Day. Scotland is currently planning similar legislation. Film studios release many high-budget movies in the holiday season, including Christmas films, fantasy movies or high-tone dramas with high production values.
An economists analysis calculates that Christmas is a deadweight loss under orthodox microeconomic theory, due to the surge in gift-giving. This loss is calculated as the difference between what the gift giver spent on the item and what the gift receiver would have paid for the item. It is estimated that in 2001 Christmas resulted in a $4 billion deadweight loss in the U.S. alone. Because of complicating factors, this analysis is sometimes used to discuss possible flaws in current microeconomic theory. Other deadweight losses include the effects of Christmas on the environment and the fact that material gifts are often perceived as white elephants, imposing cost for upkeep and storage and contributing to clutter.

Alternative names

There are several alternative terms for Christmas. Crimbo is a slang term which first appeared in print in 1928; the variant form Crimble was first used by John Lennon in a 1963 Beatles' Fan Club Christmas single. Xmas is a long established abbreviation, though it is involved in the secularization of Christmas debate. Yule is used in Northern Europe. In the USA, the term(s) "holiday" or "season" may be used, as addressed at Christmas controversy.

U.S. Christmas controversy

Throughout the 20th century, the United States experienced what became known as the Christmas controversies, despite it being declared a federal holiday on June 26, 1870 by then-U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. The importance of the economic impact of the secular Christmas holiday was reinforced in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed moving the Thanksgiving holiday date to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy during the Great Depression. Religious leaders protested this move, with a New York Times roundup of Christmas sermons showing the most common theme as the dangers of an increasingly commercial Christmas.
Some considered the U.S. government's recognition of Christmas as a federal holiday to be a violation of the separation of church and state. This was brought to trial several times, recently including in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) and Ganulin v. United States (1999).
On December 6, 1999, the verdict for Ganulin v. United States (1999) declared that "the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose." This decision was upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 19, 2000. At the same time, many devout Christians objected to what they saw as the vulgarization and co-optation of one of their sacred observances by secular commercial society and calls to a return to "the true meaning of Christmas" are common.
Debates about Christmas in America continued into the 21st century. In 2005, some Christians, along with American political commentators such as Bill O'Reilly, protested what they perceived to be the secularization of Christmas. They felt that the holiday was threatened by a general secular trend, or by persons and organizations with an anti-Christian agenda. The perceived trend was also blamed on political correctness.


  • Christmas in America: A History, by Penne L. Restad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-19-509300-3
  • The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum (1996; New York: Vintage Books, 1997). ISBN 0-679-74038-4
  • The Origins of Christmas, by Joseph F. Kelly (August 2004: Liturgical Press) ISBN 978-0814629840
  • Christmas Customs and Traditions, by Clement A. Miles (1976: Dover Publications) ISBN 978-0486233543
  • The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerry Bowler (October 2004: McClelland & Stewart) ISBN 978-0771015359
  • Santa Claus: A Biography, by Gerry Bowler (November 2007: McClelland & Stewart) ISBN 978-0771016684
  • There Really Is a Santa Claus: The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions, by William J. Federer (December 2002: Amerisearch) ISBN 978-0965355742
  • St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, by Jim Rosenthal (July 2006: Nelson Reference) ISBN 1418504076
  • Just say Noel: A History of Christmas from the Nativity to the Nineties, by David Comfort (November 1995: Fireside) ISBN 978-0684800578
  • 4000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages, by Earl W. Count (November 1997: Ulysses Press) ISBN 978-1569750872

See also

sisterlinks Christmas

Christmas time

Christmas topics


External links

Christmas in Afrikaans: Kersfees
Christmas in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Crīstesmæsse
Christmas in Arabic: عيد الميلاد
Christmas in Aragonese: Nabidat
Christmas in Azerbaijani: Milad
Christmas in Bengali: বড়দিন
Christmas in Min Nan: Sèng-tàn-cheh
Christmas in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Божае Нараджэньне
Christmas in Bosnian: Božić
Christmas in Breton: Nedeleg
Christmas in Bulgarian: Рождество Христово
Christmas in Catalan: Nadal
Christmas in Chuvash: Раштав (уяв)
Christmas in Czech: Vánoce
Christmas in Welsh: Nadolig
Christmas in Danish: Jul
Christmas in Pennsylvania German: Grischtdaag
Christmas in German: Weihnachten
Christmas in Estonian: Jõulud
Christmas in Modern Greek (1453-): Χριστούγεννα
Christmas in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Nadêl
Christmas in Spanish: Navidad
Christmas in Esperanto: Kristnasko
Christmas in Basque: Eguberria
Christmas in Persian: کریسمس
Christmas in Faroese: Jól
Christmas in French: Noël
Christmas in Western Frisian: Krysttiid
Christmas in Friulian: Nadâl
Christmas in Irish: An Nollaig
Christmas in Scottish Gaelic: Nollaig
Christmas in Galician: Nadal
Christmas in Classical Chinese: 聖誕節
Christmas in Korean: 크리스마스
Christmas in Hindi: क्रिसमस
Christmas in Upper Sorbian: Hody
Christmas in Croatian: Božić
Christmas in Indonesian: Natal
Christmas in Zulu: UKhisimusi
Christmas in Icelandic: Jól
Christmas in Italian: Natale
Christmas in Hebrew: חג המולד
Christmas in Javanese: Natal
Christmas in Kannada: ಕ್ರಿಸ್ಮಸ್
Christmas in Georgian: შობა
Christmas in Swahili (macrolanguage): Krismasi
Christmas in Latin: Christi Natalis
Christmas in Latvian: Ziemassvētki
Christmas in Luxembourgish: Chrëschtdag
Christmas in Lithuanian: Kalėdos
Christmas in Limburgan: Kaersjmes
Christmas in Lingala: Nɔ́ɛlɛ
Christmas in Hungarian: Karácsony
Christmas in Malayalam: ക്രിസ്തുമസ്
Christmas in Malay (macrolanguage): Krismas
Christmas in Min Dong Chinese: Séng-dáng-cáik
Christmas in Moksha: Роштува
Christmas in Dutch: Kerstmis
Christmas in Dutch Low Saxon: Kìrsttied
Christmas in Japanese: クリスマス
Christmas in Norwegian: Jul
Christmas in Norwegian Nynorsk: Jul
Christmas in Narom: Noué
Christmas in Occitan (post 1500): Nadal
Christmas in Central Khmer: បុណ្យណូអែល
Christmas in Low German: Wiehnacht
Christmas in Polish: Boże Narodzenie
Christmas in Portuguese: Natal
Christmas in Romanian: Crăciun
Christmas in Romansh: Nadal
Christmas in Quechua: Nawidad
Christmas in Russian: Рождество Христово
Christmas in Scots: Christenmas
Christmas in Albanian: Krishtlindja
Christmas in Sicilian: Natali
Christmas in Simple English: Christmas
Christmas in Slovenian: Božič
Christmas in Serbian: Божић
Christmas in Finnish: Joulu
Christmas in Swedish: Jul
Christmas in Tagalog: Pasko
Christmas in Tamil: கிறிஸ்துமஸ்
Christmas in Tetum: Natál
Christmas in Thai: คริสต์มาส
Christmas in Vietnamese: Giáng sinh
Christmas in Turkish: Noel
Christmas in Ukrainian: Різдво
Christmas in Walloon: Noyé
Christmas in Vlaams: Kestdag
Christmas in Wu Chinese: 圣诞
Christmas in Contenese: 聖誕節
Christmas in Samogitian: Kaliedas
Christmas in Chinese: 圣诞节
Christmas in Slovak: Vianoce

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Advent, Allhallowmas, Allhallows, Allhallowtide, Annunciation, Annunciation Day, Ascension Day, Ash Wednesday, Candlemas, Candlemas Day, Carnival, Corpus Christi, Easter, Easter Monday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday, Eastertide, Ember days, Epiphany, Good Friday, Halloween, Hallowmas, Holy Thursday, Holy Week, Lady Day, Lammas, Lammas Day, Lammastide, Lent, Lententide, Mardi Gras, Martinmas, Maundy Thursday, Michaelmas, Michaelmas Day, Michaelmastide, Nativity, Palm Sunday, Pancake Day, Passion Week, Pentecost, Quadragesima, Quadragesima Sunday, Septuagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Trinity Sunday, Twelfth-day, Twelfth-tide, Whit-Tuesday, White Sunday, Whitmonday, Whitsun, Whitsunday, Whitsuntide, Whitweek, noel, yule, yuletide
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