Christmas is celebrated in honour of the birth of the Son of God to the Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. The little Christ was born in a cave where cattle were hidden from the weather. At the moment of the birth of Jesus Christ, the star of Bethlehem lit up in the sky, which directed the people to the baby. They brought gifts to the newborn child and recognized him as the son of God. It was the scene of the birth of Christ that became the main symbol of the Christmas holiday. The birth of Jesus is described by two evangelists - the apostles Matthew and Luke.
The first Christians did not celebrate Christmas. For them, the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, which is now known as Easter, was much more important. Believers began to celebrate Christmas after the Greeks and other Hellenistic people entered the Christian communities. January 6th was often chosen as the date of Christmas (the sixth day of the year, since Jesus was the new Adam, and Adam, according to the Old Testament, was created on the sixth day of creation). The holiday ideologically combined both Christmas and Epiphany, which is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ, which later became different holidays.
The date of December 25th was first indicated by Sextus Julius Africanus in the chronicle of 221. The Roman Church has, since ancient times, celebrated Christmas on December 25, and since the 4th century, following its example, on this day the holiday was celebrated in the East. Historians' opinions on the date of the celebration of Christmas vary. Formally, the decision to celebrate December 25th was made at the Ephesus (Third Ecumenical) Church Council in 431.
The different dates of Christmas in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (December 25th and January 7th) are explained only by different systems of chronology (Gregorian and Julian calendars). The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The reason was the gradual shift in relation to the Julian calendar of the vernal equinox, which determined the date of Easter. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in Russia only in 1918, though the Russian Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian calendar.
Catholics, as well as Protestants and some Orthodox, celebrate Christmas on the night of December 25. The celebration of Christmas in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar is preceded by the Advent period. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and is considered a time of spiritual purification and intensified repentance. The day of December 24th is called Christmas Eve, or Vigil. In many countries, believers observe strict fasting on this day. Festive masses are held in churches and communities on the evening of December 24th and during December 25th.
The celebration of Christmas lasts for eight days — from December 25 to January 1, forming the Octave of Christmas. Christmas time continues after the end of the Octave until the feast of Epiphany, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Epiphany (January 6). All Christmas time, the clergy at the liturgy is dressed in white, festive-coloured robes.
Catholic Christmas is primarily associated with Santa Claus— a fairy-tale character resembling Santa Claus. On the morning of December 25th, children open their gifts. It is also customary to go to church on this day. Nativity scenes with managers and figurines of the Infant Christ and the Mother of God are installed inside and outside the churches. Catholics install fir trees in their homes before Christmas. This tradition originated among the Germanic people, where spruce was considered as a symbol of life and fertility.
Lighted candles are also one of the main symbols of Christmas among Catholics. The wavering flame of the candle reminds believers of the gospel words: "Light shines in darkness and darkness has not embraced It." Catholics decorate their homes with garlands, Christmas wreaths, hang stockings or large socks over the fireplace, in which they put gifts.
Christmas for Catholics is a family holiday. It is customary to serve baked goose with apples and cabbage or turkey with various sauces on the festive table. Also, Catholics always have one empty seat at the table. Whoever comes to the house will be a welcome guest. Long before the holiday itself, Christmas fairs and markets begin to work in cities, houses, as well as shops, are decorated with special decorations: glowing garlands, elegant Christmas trees, Santa Claus figurines, white fluffy snow and many others. Temples are beautifully decorated with mangers with the Divine infant Jesus, the Holy Virgin Mary and Joseph, shepherds and pets.
The celebration begins on the evening of December 24th, Christmas Eve. The whole family gathers at the table and after the first star appears in the sky, they begin a festive meal. The festive table for Christmas should be modest: without excessive fatty foods, alcohol. There must be a sochivo - a dish of boiled cereals, to which honey, nuts and dried fruits are added. On the holiday itself, a Christmas service is held in churches. After the service, everyone goes home, exchanges gifts and treats themselves to festive dishes in the family circle.
The main symbol of Catholic Christmas is the Advent wreath of fir branches. Catholics use it to decorate the front door or the dining table. Such a wreath symbolizes not only the theme of Christmas, but also focuses on the fact that this is a family holiday. In families with children, as a rule, an elegant Advent calendar is posted. This is how Catholics countdown the days until Christmas. There is a huge variety of such calendars: with predictions, with gifts, with chocolates
Candles are another constant attribute of the holiday. Most often, red or white ones are used for Christmas. Festive candles are lit by the fireplace, on the window or during dinner, when the whole family gathers at the table. Candles that are placed around a Christmas wreath look incredibly beautiful. For the holiday, Christmas socks are hung in houses next to the Christmas tree or by the fireplace. After all, according to tradition, it is in them that Santa Claus leaves gifts, who descends into the house through the chimney. In addition, people try to decorate houses with a plant called poinsettia. Its flowers resemble a star in shape, so this plant is often called the "Christmas star".
Merry Christmas, ladies and gentlemen!
Written by Nikita Bondarenko,
CEO & Founder of TBS Int.