Why do Christians celebrate Christmas

Christmas - the history, meaning and origin of Christmas

What Christmas means at the end of December for people, families and children

All over the world, people of mainly Christian faith or at least Christian character celebrate Christmas with great joy every year. The Christmas holidays last from December 24th, 25th and 26th.

The festival has not lost any of its popularity for almost 2,000 years. On the contrary: Christmas seems to grow from year to yearto expand his Christmas story and gain popularity.

The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, that is what the celebrations essentially go back to, has now steadfastly outlasted all essential changes for a long time, but is still developing. Christmas is a real tradition. And Christmas is not only associated with Christian values, but also with a number of other charges that were and are in context with it.

In general, Christmas was never just the festival of Christians from the outset. The origin and thought of Christmas, and even parts of the Christmas story itself, are much older than Christianity. This also applies to the solemn festival for the arrival and birth of the Redeemer, Savior and Messiah Jesus Christ. Influences of pagan origin have always been found in the history of Christmas, as have Christian values ​​and stories.

Further articles on the topic of Christmas

The Christian origin of Christmas

As already mentioned, people of the Christian faith or at least people in countries with a Christian character celebrate Christmas as the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ and his arrival in the manger at the stable of Bethlehem. The Savior, Messiah or God's Son was born more than 2,000 years ago and with his teachings founded the religion of Christianity, which is still very much alive today. His Christmas story lives on to the present day.

Like many other groups who often endeavored to involve other people in their faith in order to spread their faith, Christians therefore also adopted symbols, occasions and celebrations that had existed long before in the course of time. Whether the birth of Jesus Christ is really accurate to the day on the night of December 24th to 25th according to the modern Gregorian calendar or from January 6th to 7th according to the old Julian calendar, is strictly speaking not documented.

"Regardless of the calendar: In every calendar, Christians find the festival at the exact time they appropriately agreed on a long time ago."

It doesn't matter either. The only thing that matters is that the Savior was born. And his teachings are important to the believers. The first real testimony to the celebration of Christmas goes back to a Christian Christmas celebration on December 25th in Rome in the year 336 AD. Until today, Christmas is the most important of the three Christian high feasts in every church year before Easter and Pentecost.

In Germany, the custom and tradition of celebrating Christmas comparable to today's festival prevailed around the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The term Christmas goes back to the meaning of holy and consecrated nights. In the earlier Middle High German, the appropriate phrase was: "Ze den wihen approached".

Popular customs and traditions of Christian origin at Christmas time

  • Advent wreath: The jewelry with the four candles for the table or for hanging, usually made of fir branches, is a very popular decoration in the run-up to Christmas and a welcome Christmas custom. The four candles are lit one after the other on the Sundays of Advent.
    The relatively young custom was invented around 1840 by the Protestant theologian and educator Johann Hinrich Wichern. In the Protestant north of Germany, he wanted to shorten the Advent season until Christmas for poor children and orphans with the originally 24 candles, which were arranged on the wreath as four large and 20 small lights. In addition, as a teacher, he naturally also pursued educational intentions.
    As with the Advent calendar, quite a few children took their first steps in learning to count and do arithmetic with the Advent wreath. Today, however, mostly only the four main candles remain from the original form of the Advent wreath - the Wichernkranzes.
  • Advent Calendar:The no less revered advent calendar was also only created around the middle of the 19th century. And presumably it also comes from a Lutheran custom. However, it is not possible to pinpoint its origin and history, neither the year, nor the place, nor the inventor, nor the denomination with certainty. The advent calendar probably has many mothers and fathers. What is certain is that it was conceived by Christians for Christians, especially for the children among them.
    Because, like the Advent wreath, the Advent calendar is intended to shorten the beautiful pre-Christmas period for children until the Holy Festival. And as with the Advent wreath, the smaller children used to learn to count and arithmetic in a playful way during Advent.
  • Christmas mass: This custom certainly still has the deepest Christian roots of all living Christmas customs. The origin of the Christmas mass or Christmas mass goes back to the liturgy of the hours (Matutin and Laudes) sung in the church on Christmas night, i.e. to the real Christmas story represented by singing.
    This means the Holy Mass, in which the coming of the birth of the Lord is celebrated with a powerful voice. Christmas mass usually begins shortly before or at midnight on December 24th and 25th. Many families still attend this event together once a year, regardless of regular church ties. The Christmas mass in the churches is regularly by far the best attended church service of the whole year.
  • Handing out Christmas Presents: Perhaps the second oldest active Christmas tradition after Holy Mass is giving presents, especially that of children. Giving each other gifts is more than just a ceremony. For many people, this is the central part of the festivities at Christmas. In any case, children perceive the giving of presents to be the absolute highlight of the festival. In Germany today children are given gifts on the evening of December 24th.
    In other countries such as England, for example, the act of joy does not take place until December 25th. Unlike the traditional Christmas mass, however, the act of giving presents has undergone a significant transformation in its history compared to previous centuries. For many centuries it was not Santa Claus or the Christ Child who brought the presents. But the big gift distribution was done by Nicholas on December 6th.
    It was not until the Reformation in the 16th century and largely the great church reformer Martin Luther that changed that. Why? Because the Evangelical Church rejects the veneration of saints and the cult of personality. Only the birth of Jesus Christ should stand in the foreground. This rejection also included that of St. Nicholas of Myra, for a long time the patron of the festival of the same name for children.
    So the big gift festival not only expanded to include gifts for adults. In the end, it was postponed to Christmas Eve in many countries around the world, even across denominations.
  • Christ child: Directly in connection with this postponement of the giving of presents from Nicholas to Christmas Eve is the appearance of the Christ Child as a gift-bringer. This custom can be traced back directly to the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation, which is a fairly recent Christmas story.
    After all, after Nicholas had abdicated, another symbolic figure had to bring the gifts. Children especially love such symbolic figures. While Luther's proposal did not initially mention the girlish angel with golden curls that is common today, over the centuries this figure prevailed in the end.

Influences of pagan or secular history on Christmas

However, a number of cross-references prove that Christmas is in a way much older than Christianity itself. Many analogies can even be found in the true Christmas story. One of the many origins points to Egypt. Even the ancient Egyptians celebrated the winter solstice on the shortest and darkest days of the year, at that time as a sun cult in honor of the sun god Re or Ra.

The day when the nights get shorter again and the days get longer again has always been of great importance for many communities, cults and religions. The Romans, for example, celebrated the festival in honor of their sun god Sol at the end of December long before Christ. And the Germanic, Baltic and Scandinavian peoples celebrated the Yule Festival at the same time.

“Almost every church, religion or denomination had and still has a strong connection to the winter solstice. It is an elementary part of every Christmas story. "

To this day, Christmas is still called Yule in Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In Iceland they say Jól undaunted, in Finland Joulu, in Estonia Jõulud, in the Netherlands Joel and also in several Frisian dialects in Germany you can still find corresponding references. In Sylt Frisian it is called Jül or Jööl. In all of these cases, it was essentially the re-strengthening of the sun that was celebrated.

This fact was of immense recurring importance for all people every year, especially for sowing and later harvest. Even before the arrival of the Christian faith, the ritual drinking of Yule was used to drink properly. Also that at that time the houses were decorated with evergreen branches made of fir, spruce and pine, is an ancient pre-Christian and not only Germanic custom.

The branches were ascribed protective and healing powers. At that time, people even smoked so that it just steamed and fogged. According to the motto "happiness stays in the house, misfortune should come out" one drove evil spirits out of one's own home with more or less pleasant smelling smoke.

Popular customs and traditions of pagan or secular origin for Christmas

  • Christmas tree: The custom of setting up and decorating a Christmas tree, which is extremely popular nowadays, is one of the Christmas stories that are definitely not originally of Christian origin. Even if the first Christmas tree in what is now Germany was mentioned in a document as early as 1527.
    The Christmas tree has no historically verifiable origin in Christianity, but many different cultures have had this or a comparable custom for a very long time to use evergreen plants as symbols of celebration around the winter solstice and New Year's Eve. Because evergreen plants embodied pure vitality and health, especially in the darkest time of the year.
    Not only the ancient Germans cultivated this tradition. Even for the much older cultures of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews, evergreen trees, wreaths and chains were a symbol of celebration. In ancient Rome, too, people liked to decorate themselves with laurel branches at the turn of the year or to honor the god of the sun by decorating a tree in the Mithras cult.
  • Santa Claus: Next to the Christmas tree, Santa Claus is now the most famous symbol figure. Santa Claus stands for the custom of giving. He brings the presents for the children. Worldwide he is the number one gift bringer, well before the Christ Child. Interestingly, as a purely fictional character that was only created in the 19th century, it is popular across all denominations. Unlike the originally Protestant Christ Child, which today has only established itself in a few Catholic regions with internationally manageable success.
    Santa Claus is a stocky, kind and elderly gentleman with a long white beard and a red fur coat and, as everyone knows, comes up with a sleigh and reindeer. In his story he combines Christian characteristics such as those of St. Nicholas as well as pagan influences such as those of his helper Knecht Ruprecht.
  • Smoker: Smoking out evil spirits, as already passed down by the ancient Germans, is also of much older origin than expected. The smoker builds on this tradition, who himself is rather of a younger age. A smoker was first mentioned in a document around 1830 in the Saxon Ore Mountains. Up until now it has been part of the Erzgebirge folk art there.
    The classic figure of the often turned smoker or noise man consists of two parts. Below we find the foot with the glow plate for the incense candle. The top on it is hollowed out and allows the aromatic scent to escape through its openings. Usually the steam comes out of a mouth hole.
  • Schwibbogen: The Schwibbogen has also started its triumphal march in Christmas decorations around the world from the Ore Mountains. The glowing "floating arch", as it is named after the architecture, does not originate from the ancient Teutons, but from the Saxon miners.
    For the first time in the 18th century, dated 1840, a Schwibbogen was built in the area around Johanngeorgenstadt. At that time made of metal, nowadays mostly made of wood. The shape did not follow the myth of the mouth of a mining tunnel, as is often assumed, but was originally intended to symbolize the course of the day. As is known, the sun, moon and stars shape it.
    The Schwibbogen usually unfolded its luminosity best in the window facing the street. Because the light of the candles placed on the arch was supposed to show the miners the safe way home. The lights also expressed the miners' longing for daylight, which they rarely saw on short winter days. For months the buddies only saw the moon and stars instead of the sun.
  • Mulled wine: But seeing the stars could soon have been due to another popular custom that is now firmly anchored in the active Christmas stories - drinking mulled wine. After all, the oldest traditional German mulled wine recipe also comes from Saxony at that time. August Josef Ludwig von Wackerbarth wrote it down in 1843 AD.
    Drinking festivities was hot, as already indicated, in the area of ​​today's Germany, but also in many other predominantly Nordic, Scandinavian and Baltic regions - in the cold countries - long before the arrival of Christianity. The story of the ritually handed down Yule drinking testifies to this.
    But the forerunners go back much further, in terms of time and geography. One of these forerunners of today's mulled wine was the "Conditum Paradoxum", a cooked spiced wine from antiquity. It was a particularly elaborate variant of the Roman "Vina Condita", a wine refined with pepper. Later in the Middle Ages, spicy wines that were drunk cold were popular again, such as “Hypocras”.

Christmas today

In the modern present, Christmas and its history are celebrated particularly exuberantly in the western countries of the Christian faith, especially in Europe, North, Central and South America and in Australia and New Zealand. But also in other mainly more modern western and eastern countries such as Japan or China Christmas, or some elements of it, have become global celebrations.

The festival in honor of the birth of Christ has long been so secular that it extends beyond a purely Christian festival and the church. The unifying, the inclusive and the common have become independent. Today, many people celebrate Christmas beyond its narrow theological and religious meaning, above all as a festival of family, love and contemplation. Reading a good book, having a good conversation, finding time for each other - that's what counts.

“Almost every church, religion or denomination had and still has a strong connection to the winter solstice. It is an elementary part of every Christmas story. "

Those fruits of Christ's teaching are evidently so fruitfulthat they also radiate great attractiveness to non-practicing Christians and even to non-believers. Christmas is definitely celebrated with family and friends - with and for them. Many people rediscover their charity at Christmas. At no other time are more people involved in helping those in need than at Christmas.

Of course, trade and business also shape the biggest gift festival of the year today. Giving presents and receiving presents is a dear tradition at Christmas. With so many gifts, trade is booming. Although it is said again and again that Christmas shouldn't be about material things, gifts or money, but about joy, time and compassion, such an immense festival of gifts can hardly escape its own economic dynamism.

More interesting articles on the topic of Christmas