The Meaning Of Christmas

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The word Christmas has been around for centuries. Some dictionaries say it belongs to the late Old English period; others that it dates back to the 12th century. Old forms include cristes masse and christmasse, meaning the festival (mass) of Christ. Christmas actually replaced a number of significant pagan midwinter festivals when the church was trying to persuade Romans to convert to Christianity.

In the phrase Merry Christmas, the word merry does not refer an excess of seasonal good cheer, nor yet to drunkenness. Those meanings date from the 14th century onwards. However, the original meaning of merry was pleasing or agreeable. That meaning is also found in the phrase God rest you merry, gentlemen (NOT God rest you, merry gentlemen), where rest is used in the same sense as in rest assured.

The use of the abbreviation Xmas drives some people crazy, yet it is not a modern aberration, but an ancient usage. X was used to represent the Greek symbol chi, which is also the first letter in Christ. That usage has been around since Roman times.

Bringer of gifts Santa Claus has evolved from a Christian saint, Saint Nicholas, and is believed to have arrived in the US with the Dutch. Though now the two are inextricably intertwined, Father Christmas predates Santa Claus, having been around since the 15th century.

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18 thoughts on “The Meaning Of Christmas”

  1. Excellent and timely post!

    An F.Y.I:
    Armenia was the first whole nation on Earth to recognize
    and celebrate Christmas.

    Historical documents show that as a nation, Christianity and a
    replication of the Spirit of the Nativity, ‘gifting’, were fully adopted by Armenia by 301 A.D.

    Today Christmas is largely observed both on the traditional, modern Julian dating of December 25,
    and also January 6, sometimes referred to as “Little Christmas”.
    Although, the latter more accurately represents to actual timing of the Birth.

  2. Thanks, NextInstinct. It’s always good to learn about the history of major dates in different countries. I found a lot of information about January 5/6 relating to 12th Night. Also, in a lot of Scandinavian countries, the major celebration is actually December 24th.

  3. It is not likely that Jesus was born in either December or January. Palestine is too cold at those times for shepherds to be “abiding in the fields.” The association of Christ’s birth with December 25 arose long after the gospels were written. Taking December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth is just one of many examples of the Christian co-opting of an established pagan holiday by giving it Christian significance. It was a way of transforming pagans into Christians without making them give up their traditions.

  4. You’re right, Maeve, and it is a fascinating history. Easter is another Christian celebration that is reputed to have pagan roots dating back thousands of years before Christ’s birth.

    However, Halloween’s origins are very much Christian, as it marks the vigil held before the Feast Of All Saints (or All Hallows) on November 1.

  5. AAAAHHHH. I have no problem with the information itself. It’s interesting. But, please, what does this have to do with daily writing!!!!?? Maybe the newsletter name should be changed to something like “Daily Random Fact That Has Little To Do With Writing.”

  6. Hey Beth, the root and origin of words sometimes can help you to use them more efficiently, or at least to not use them with the wrong meaning.

    But point noted and thanks for sharing it, I promise the posts not related exclusively to writing tips will be rare.

  7. Interesting as usual. I didn’t know such facts about Christmas. Shame on Christians for trying to sanctify pagan holidays. Thumbs down.

  8. I’d reserve judgment on the Christians for stealing holidays. It’s happened throughout civilization. Hebrews stole Philistine holidays. Babylonians stole Hebrew holidays. It’s how cultures assimilate.

  9. The true reason why we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus Christ was sent and died for our sins in obedience with God the Father…Christmas wont be that great without Jesus in our hearts in our lives.

  10. Jesus Christ was born late August early September. Christmas was a created holiday as Christ never celebrated his birthday. Romans were amongst the first to give way to the traditions of celebrating birthdays. Since the Catholic church was established in Rome the need to convince pagan worshippers to accept Christianity yet allow them to not give up their pagan beliefs of winter solstice and honoring the goddess of fertility (Oester) in Spring. Sadly Christianity made many compromises of true religious practice in order to maintain traditions of people refusing to give up their pagan roots. Where in the Bible is it written to honor Christ’s birth and celebrate Christmas? He was of Jewish descent and did not partake in this practice. And where is it written in the Bible to give gifts to others for Christmas. People are going broke in thinking they are honoring Christ. The money of gifts would better serve the poor if one does choose to spend. The focus of Christ’s humanity and the example of his goodness is lost in today’s society. It would be pleasing to the Almighty God to serve others and honor His messengers versus the commericialism seen all over the world. I appreciate the information posted on this webpage and thank the contributors for helping me understand the term Merry Christmas.

  11. I appreciate all the information.It was very interesting and I’ve learned a lot. I just love what N.J. said we just stole the pagan’s day right from under their noses. Christ will always be first and why not celebrated his birthday. Everybody has a birthday. Yes it may sound a little silly because they say cry at the coming in and laugh at the going out. See Christ has got it going on he is celebrated coimg in and going out. Hey we should celebrate every day because Christ came, he died and arose the third that we might have eternal life. So let celebrate Christ every day because without him we are all lost. So they got the seasons all mixed up. Some celebrate him at a different time so what. Just celebrate him. What othe man died for us and it meant anything. There are a lot of gang banger who have died for people but did it account for anything. NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dah

  12. I wish I had known the specifics of why X-Mas came to be, back when I was little. I got in trouble in Sunday School when I put X-Mas instead of Christmas on a drawing assignment we were supposed to do.

    Oh if I could tell my old Sunday School Teacher now…

  13. The story of Christ’s birth might help us sort all of this out. Sometimes God uses earthly, even pagan tradition to influence us in the right direction so that we can arrive at the destination He intended. Scripture tells us that an earthly, pagan dictator required that the people be taxed and that tax would be assessed at their town or city of origin causing Joseph and Mary to return to Bethlehem, the prophecied birth place of the Son of God. Isn’t it possible that pagan traditions and the compassionate action of a loving old man have combined with the birth of our Savior to provide for us a perfect holiday that displays for us the very character of God? “For God so loved that He gave…”. The immediate and inevitable action of love is giving. The second is receiving. God gave us His Son and He received us into His family and “is not willing that any should perish, but that all come…” The spirit of christmas is a term we use. Is it an accident that love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are the fruit or character of the Spirit of God as well as the spirit of christmas? We should pursue the truth, but the acquisition of knowledge requires us to exercise it with wisdom. “Get knowledge, but with all thy getting, get wisdom also.”

  14. The historic record of the birth of Christ can be found in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20.

    Unlike any other baby, the one born that night in Bethlehem was unique in all of history. He was not created by a human father and mother. He had a heavenly pre-existence (John 1:1-3, 14). He is God, the Son—Creator of the universe (Philippians 2:5-11). This is why Christmas is called the incarnation, a word which means “in the flesh.” In the birth of Jesus, the eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing Creator came to earth in the flesh. Luke 2:13-14

    Christmas is all about LOVE…

  15. Funny, you get a complaint about “random” trivia, but none about religious pirating of a writing tips. Jemuel, N.J., Constance, Shane, Purse: STOP IT.

    However, Halloween’s origins are very much Christian, as it marks the vigil held before the Feast Of All Saints (or All Hallows) on November 1.

    No, Halloween has non-Christian origins as well. Roman Parentalia and probably Celtic Samhain. Christianity was no different from any other religion in simply re-defining things that people tend to note anyway, like seasonal changes (equinoxes, solstices) etc. Simple shapes like crossed lines, too.

    Sharon: The saying “Merry Christmas”, at least now, is an Americanism. Brits tend to say Happy Christmas. So how does that fit with the ancient meaning of merry, which was already obsolete by the time the US holiday was being established?

  16. Very interesting indeed. I, too, didn’t know some of the minutiae associated with Christmas, but this is something I can teach my son, so thank you for making this information available.

    I have to say, however, that I agree with ‘venqax’ in this regard: within this forum, anything vaguely resembling proselytizing is really inappropriate.

    Many roads lead to the top of this mountain for a reason, and each person must choose his / her own. Common sense, true. But not at all suitable for this site.


  17. On the topic of pagan festivals and customs… we are free to celebrate the Incarnation of the living God in whatever God honouring and biblically appropriat way we decide. We can do that with or without chosing a day that pagans chose for their festivals, just as we can do this with or without any created thing they may choose to celebrate with. The reason is that God created the day and night and he made everything in this world and just like eating the bread and wine to celebrate Christ’s death, we can choose symbols from God’s creation to celebrate the birth of Christ… as long as we don’t worship or depend on these things for our celebration to be meaningful.

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