Christmas 1998Friday, December 25
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.Norman Vincent Peale
Christmas is a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated every year on December 25 with the exception of some Eastern churches which use the older Julian calendar. Nowadays Christmas is also celebrated by a large number of non-Christian people around the world as a cultural event. In many countries it is a public holiday. As of 1870 Christmas is observed in the United States as a federal holiday.
A period of waiting and preparation before Christmas is called the "Advent Season". In most churches it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
Customs and traditions
Due to its long history and the enormous popularity there are countless customs and traditions associated with Christmas. Some of them are well-known throughout the world, while the other are limited to specific countries and regions. The most popular involve Christmas Tree and special decorations like Advent wreaths, mistletoe, representations of Nativity scene and colorful lights. Family gatherings, special meals, singing Christmas carols and gift-giving are also an inseparable part of Christmas. And we cannot forget about the figure of Santa Claus who brings gifts to the well-behaved children on Christmas Eve.
Bible does not mention a specific date for Jesus' birth . Most historians believe he was born in the spring, hence the description of shepherds herding animals. The date of December 25 for the Feast of the Nativity was set by the Western Christian Church (Pope Julius I) by the early-to-mid 4th century. It coincided with the pagan celebrations of the birthday of Mithra in the Roman cult of Mithraism. The date of December 25 is also close to the date of winter solstice which was celebrated in many European pagan cultures.
Modern Christmas tree tradition can be traced back to 16th-century Germany with the first documented Christmas tree found on the sculpture of a private home in Alsace (then part of Germany, today France), dating 1576 . In the United States, the first Christmas trees appeared in Strasbourg (Pennsylvania) in the 17th century with the arrival of German immigrants. The custom spread across the country in the second half of 19th century .