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Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.
Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Christmas Day, December 25th, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year
In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
Christmas Symbols: Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
Santa Claus has become the most beloved of Christmas symbols and traditions. The image of the jolly old elf flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeers and leaving toys and gifts for every child is known worldwide.
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is a long-standing and Christmas tradition. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe on Christmas emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages. The original custom held that each time a man kissed a woman under a twig of mistletoe, he should remove one of the berries. Once all the berries were gone, no more kissing could take place under that twig.
Christmas Customs: Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. Nothing says Christmas time more than a fragrant young fir tree adorned with twinkling lights, smiling angels and bright colored ornaments. The legend of the Christmas tree can be traced back to the early 8th century, when an English missionary named Saint Boniface interrupted a group of pagan men about to cut down an oak tree to be used for a human sacrifice. In felling the tree , Saint Boniface revealed beneath it a young fir tree . He told the pagans that this sapling, with its branches pointing upward toward Heaven, represented the Holy child.
In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas.
One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.
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Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Christmas Day, December 25th, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.
Starts: 12/25/2013 12:00AMEnds: 2013-12-25:00.000 Duration: 23:59