25 de dez. de 2022

History of Christmas: origin, meaning and symbols

Christmas, December 25th, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the most important figure in Christianity.

For this reason, for Christians, it is one of the main commemorative dates, alongside Easter, when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.

Christmas Day is a religious holiday in many parts of the world. The so-called Christmas cycle is celebrated for twelve days, from December 25th to January 6th.

This period is related to the time that the three wise men, Baltazar, Gaspar and Melchior, took to reach Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born.

Origin of Christmas

Christmas originated from pagan festivals that were held in antiquity. On that date, the Romans celebrated the arrival of winter (winter solstice). They worshiped the Sun God (natalis invicti Solis), and still held days of festivities with the aim of renewal.

Other peoples of antiquity also celebrated the date, either because of the arrival of winter or because of the passage of time.

This is the case of the Mesopotamians, who celebrated “Zagmuk”, a pagan feast in which a man was chosen to be sacrificed. That's because they believed that at the end of the year some monsters awakened.

From the fourth century, and with the consolidation of Christianity, the festivity was made official as Natale Domini (Christmas of the Lord). As the day on which Jesus was born is not known for sure, this was a way of Christianizing the Roman pagan festivals, giving them a new symbology.

The term Christmas comes from the Latin word “natalis” which, in turn, is derived from the verb to be born (nāscor).

The choice of date was determined by Pope Julius I (337-352) and was later declared a national holiday by Emperor Justinian in 529.

In this way, without being associated with its origin, Christmas began to be celebrated in many countries.

Christmas symbols: how did they come about?

With Christmas, there are several signs representing this festive celebration, each with a different meaning and with a pagan or religious origin.

When we talk about the birth of Jesus, the most present representation in our mind is the nativity scene, after all it portrays the scenario where the Child was born.

And there, jointly or separately, we get to know the elements that appear in it: the holy family, composed of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, the three wise men, the angel and the star.


Did you know that the first nativity scene was set up by San Francisco de Assisi?

Yes, it was in the th century, in Italy, that San Francisco wanted to recreate the scene of Jesus's birth to explain to the people how it would have happened.

Then, more and more the setting up of the nativity scene became a strong tradition and started to be mounted in houses, churches and in different places during the Christmas cycle.

The nativity scene symbolizes the union of the divine with the earthly, after all it gathers people, animals and the figure of God.

Still in the religious field, the beautiful angels used in Christmas decorations refer to São Gabriel, the angel who announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.

The three wise men are the wise men who went looking for Jesus to worship him and bring him gifts. There is yet another religious factor alongside the custom of giving gifts at Christmas, which increases the rage for commerce at that time of year.

And the stars on the tops of Christmas trees are precisely the sign followed by the wise men to find the place where Jesus was born.

Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is one of the most emblematic symbols of the festival. Not everyone assembles the nativity scene, but the tree, many people have.

The tradition of mounting it, in a religious proposal, is more recent. It was Martin Luther, the main figure of the Protestant Reformation, who set up the first tree at home.

Before Luther, people already used decorated trees to celebrate the arrival of winter. This is precisely why it is not just any tree, but a pine tree, because this tree is the one that most resists the harsh winters. She is therefore a symbol of hope and peace, just like Jesus for Christians.

Mounted close to the festive date, the tree is dismantled on Dia de Reis, on January 6th.

Santa Claus

If the tree is the most emblematic symbol, Santa Claus is the most important character in the party.

The figure of Santa Claus is inspired by a Turkish bishop named Saint Nicholas. He used to leave coins near the chimneys of the most needy people. That's why he represents the generosity that ends up invading hearts at Christmas time.

Over time, and through advertising campaigns, São Nicolau became popular and gave rise to the aspect we know today of Santa Claus, who instead of coins, leaves gifts to children who behave well throughout the year.

Christmas dinner

And finally, let's go to supper!

Its origin comes from Europe, where people used to leave the door of their houses open to receive travellers.

It symbolizes the union and fraternization of families. Thus, on Christmas Eve, family members gather at the table for the traditional Christmas dinner.

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