Christmas: a pagan festival that became universal
Christmas is one of the most important Christian holidays… and is certainly the favourite holiday of children!
Combining a religious significance with the tradition of unmissable gifts, it is the subject of a great deal of commercial activity every year. Its date is fixed, since Christmas is celebrated every 25 December. This day is a public holiday and is the occasion, for Christians, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
In popular culture, this festival evokes three elements first and foremost: gifts, placed at the foot of the tree by Father Christmas (for the younger ones…). These traditions are followed by a large number of people all over the world, whether they are Christians or not.
- The tradition of the fir tree comes from the Celts, for whom 24 December represented the day of the rebirth of the sun. They associated the spruce tree with this event.
- The giving of gifts is linked to the Magi, who gave gifts to Jesus at his birth.
- The character of Santa Claus is said to come from various traditions and legends from more or less remote times.
Find out more details below!
Etymological origin of Christmas
The word Christmas comes from two Gallic words:
- “noio” or new
- “hel”: sun
This origin refers to the profane character of the festival and in particular to the festival of the winter solstice celebrated by our ancestors.
What is Christmas?
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ for the entire Christian world.
But why the date of December 25?
In fact, the first Christmas celebrations took place over several days, between November and January. The choice of this period was strategic. The Christian Church wished to do away with old pagan customs and traditions by substituting one of the most important celebrations of Christianity: the nativity
The Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is one of the most widespread symbols of the Christmas holiday. Unlike the nativity scene, it is not recognized as a specifically Catholic symbol and is spread throughout the Protestant and Orthodox Christian world. On the evening of December 24, it is found in every home and in every square.
The first mention of the Christmas tree (also known as the Christ tree) is found in 1521, in Alsace. The tradition would have been to decorate the houses with cut branches 3 days before Christmas. The famous star, placed at the top of the tree, symbolizes the star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi.
The Advent is the period during which the Christians prepare Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin “adventus” which means coming. Advent is therefore the expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ.
To make children wait before D-day, the Germans invented the Advent calendar, composed of a set of 24 windows. Originally, it allowed children to discover pictures, which were gradually replaced by sweets, chocolates, figurines or small gifts.
The Santa Claus
It was Saint Nicholas who inspired Santa Claus. Indeed, we find in the representation of Santa Claus everything that symbolized Saint Nicholas:
- the long white beard
- the mitre which became a fur cap
- the big red coat
While Santa Claus travels in a sleigh pulled by reins, Saint Nicholas traveled on the back of a donkey. For this reason, in some regions of France, children leave a glass of wine for Santa and a carrot for his donkey under the tree.
The religious aspect of Christmas
Christmas is part of the nativity cycle.
On the evening of December 24, a midnight mass is held in many churches. It is one of the great times of the Christian religion, with Easter.
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