If you celebrate, as I do, then I wish you a very merry Christmas indeed. Let’s have some history.
Christmas, like Halloween, is historically a many-part holiday.
- It begins with the Advent, which commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This is the time of waiting and preparing for the actual celebration. This is why advent calendars are such a big part of our modern-day celebration. They allow us to count down the days in a more festive way.
- Then comes Christmas Eve on the 24th of December. Depending on how you celebrate, it can take up the entire day or just the evening. There are no truly set historical traditions for this day, but going to church is a very common one. Most of Christmas Eve is still part of the Advent, which ends at midnight.
- Then Christmastide begins. This is essentially the Christmas season and contains many celebrations. It lasts twelve days.
- The first celebration is Christmas Day, on the 25th of December. In Western Christianity, this is a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The exact date of Jesus’s birth is unknown, but by the early-to-mid fourth century, Christmas Day was being celebrated on the 25th. There are many different traditions for this day; each family has their own.
- December 26th is Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day. Boxing Day originated in the UK and is celebrated there and in Canada, Australia, and a number of other European countries. It is celebrated differently in each country and sometimes informally observed in the US. St. Stephen’s Day is a saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
- December 28th is Childermas, or Holy Innocents’ Day. The Massacre of the Innocents is the biblical account of infanticide by Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed King of the Jews. In many Spanish-speaking countries, this day is equivalent to April Fool’s Day, where pranks are played on “innocents.”
- New Year’s Eve is on the 31st of December. Many parties are held on this night, the celebrations culminating in the final countdown to midnight when the new year begins.
- New Year’s Day is on January 1st, when the new year officially begins. New Year’s resolutions are made on this day, although people often find it hard to keep them.
- Twelfth Night is celebrated on January 5th. This marks the end of Christmastide and it is also Epiphany Eve. Some people have traditions for this day like the ones most commonly celebrated on Christmas Day. It is customary to remove all Christmas decorations on this day as well.
- Epiphany is on January 6th. This feast day commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus when he was a child. There are a few fun traditions for this day that include singing, swimming, eating cake, and going to church.
- Bonus: Candlemas is celebrated on February 2nd. This is a day to celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is the 40th day of the Christmas-Epiphany season and if you didn’t remove your decorations on Epiphany Eve, you can safely do it on this day. You may also bring your candles to church and have them blessed.
Here’s some etymology from Wikipedia:
Christmas is a shortened form of Christ’s mass. It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131. Crīst is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), Messiah, meaning “anointed”; and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist.
If you want a fun word search involving many of the terms used in this post, head on over to my book blog. Have a wonderful holiday season!
For further reading:
- Christmas on Wikipedia