Origins and traditions of Christmas

Christmas has not always been called Christmas. Sometimes it was called “Nativity”, the word coming from the Latinnātīvitās” meaning “birth”. The Anglo Saxons called it “Midwinter”.

Christmas is a religious celebration commemorating the Nativity of Jesus. Historians think that this celebration must have been introduced sometime after year 300.

Not all countries in the world that celebrate Christmas do it on the 25th December. Please refer to this very good map that will show you what countries celebrate Christmas on the 6th January (for example Armenia) or 7th January (for example Russia). Let's point out that Ukraine has decided in 2017 to celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. This difference of date comes from the uncertainty about the exact date of birth of Jesus. However, countries that celebrate Christmas on 25th December have kept the 6th January to celebrate the Epiphany.

Christmas is a bank holiday in most countries that celebrate it. In the UK, Christmas Day became a bank holiday in 1834, Boxing Day was added in 1871.

Even when people do not celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, it has remained a family gathering and an occasion to celebrate for most people. Nowadays, many people celebrate the secular aspect of Christmas only, or also enjoy the commercial aspect of Christmas and love to go shopping on this occasion. People celebrate Christmas in different ways, but in our modern world (especially from the 1950s) most people invite family and sometimes friends, exchange gifts, cards, cook a special meal, go to Church if they are religious, complete Advent calendars, play Christmas music and Carols, etc. Up to the 1950s, Christmas rituals and trees were rare in the UK, and celebrations were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families.

In the past, Christmas celebrations, especially when religious oriented, were banned in totalitarian countries like Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Decorating your house for Christmas is not a thing of the modern world. As early as the 15th century, people in London were encouraged to decorate their houses with holm, ivy or bays. Holly was then used as a protection against pagans and witches.
Nativity scenes appeared in Rome in the 10th century.
The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red, green, and gold. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter, and gold is the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi, symbolizing royalty” (Wikipedia)
The exact origins of the Christmas tree is unknowned although it is widely accepted that it began in Germany in the 18th century.
To know more about Christmas decorations, please refer to this article.
Nowadays, outdoor decorations (including Christmas trees) are used in cities and smaller towns, shop windows are decorated, sometimes in a very artistic way, and they all participate to the magic of Christmas, and also its commercial aspect.

The very first Christmas hymns appeared in the 4th century in Rome. They developped in France, Germany and Italy in the 13th century. Christmas Carols appeared in England in 1426.

Christmas meals vary a lot from one country to another. To know more about traditional Christmas meals in a selection of countries, please refer to this article.

The very first Christmas card was produced in 1843. You will learn all about Christmas cards in this article!

1907 Christmas card.

Commemorative stamps are explained in this article.

You can read the complete Wikipedia about Christmas, which has been used as the main source of information for this article, or this 1902 book which has been put online.

Wikipedia also gives a list of novels with the theme of Christmas.