History of Christmas
Christmas is celebrated on December 25th since AD 354 in the Western world, replacing an earlier date of January 6th.Mid-winter festivals in ancient Babylon and Egypt, and Germanic fertility festivals are also celebrated on this day. The day also commemorates the birth of the ancient sun-god Attis in Phrygia and the birth of the Persian sun-god, Mithras. From 17th to 24th December the Romans celebrate Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty.
In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule contributed another impetus to celebration, as opposed to spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the opportunity of enjoying the Summer's bounty encouraged much feasting and merriment. The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly to celebrate the occassion. In Italy, Saint Francis introduced a tradition of re-enacting the birth of Christ and the construction of scenes of the nativity. Saints Days have also made some contribution. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honored on December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus. Another popular ritual was the burning of the Yule Log, which is strongly embedded in the pagan worship of vegetation and fire, as well as being associated with magical and spiritual power. The earliest English reference to December 25th as Christmas Day did not come until 1043.
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