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No matter how you celebrate, Christmas is a time of bringing family together, celebrating the joys of the season, and honoring traditions. Some traditions are religious and sacred while others are more cultural in nature. For Christians, Christmas marks the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He was believed to be the incarnation of God and a popular spiritual leader for his time and his teachings formed the basis of Christianity itself. The Christmas of today is also a commercial marvel, celebrated by exchanges of gifts and decorating. The pinnacle of Christmas morning is seeing all the presents delivered by Santa Claus. No matter how it’s celebrated, everyone in the modern age knows it as the world’s most celebrated holiday taking place on December 25th. It has been a recognized American federal holiday since 1870.

Early celebrations of the holiday were centuries before the birth of Jesus. Early Europeans focused on the sun’s defeat over winter, which took place after the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice marked the celebration of the finality of long, dark days and the rebirth of new life and more sunshine. In Scandinavia, the Norse culture thanked the Pagan god, Odin for the change in seasons, and Yule was a festive celebration enjoyed by all, sometimes until January. Yule logs burning were seen as a sign of prosperity and good fortune. 

In Rome, they celebrated Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, their god of agriculture. For over a month, food and drink were plentiful and slaves were treated like their masters. Businesses and schools were also closed. Around the same time, they celebrated a feast known as Juvenalia which honored the children of Rome, and upper-class families celebrated the birthday of Mithra, a powerful sun god. December 25th was believed to be Mithra’s birthday when she was born from a rock. 

The Christian version of Christmas associates the date of December 25th with the date of Jesus’ birth. This date was chosen because Annunciation Day, March 25th, was the day that Mary was told she was carrying a special baby, and December 25th is exactly nine months after that date. Pope Julius I declared it official. The first official celebration of Christmas was in the year 336 and it was referred to as the feast of the nativity. Depending on the use of the Gregorian or Julian calendar, Christmas was held approximately towards the end of December until it was finally agreed upon to settle on December 25th.