origins of Christmas
Christmas was not celebrated during the 1st 2 centuries after Christ’s life on earth. In AD 245, when a group of scholars attempted to pinpoint the exact date of Christ’s birth, a church council denounced the endeavor, declaring it wrong to celebrate the birthday of Christ "as though he were a King Pharaoh." In spite of official disapproval, various attempts were made to pinpoint the nativity, resulting in a confusion of dates. Among the earliest: January 1st, 6th, March 25th, and May 20th. By the middle of the 4th century, December 25th was associated as the birthday of Christ. Pope Julius formally named December 25th as the day for Christmas in AD 349.
December 25th was widely celebrated day in the Roman world. On that date, citizens observed the Natalis Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the unconquerable Sun) in honor of the Sun god, Mithras. The festival took place just after the winter solstace of the Julian calendar. Many modern Christmas customs, such as decorating a house with greenery, exchanging gifts and enjoying festive meals, originated with this pagan celebration. Scholars believe that pope Julius selected December 25th as the date of the nativity in order to win followers of Mithras as well as giving Christians an opportunity to honor Christ on his birth date.
In 17th century England, puritans objected to Christian celebrations because they had no clear biblical basis. As a result, in 1643, the parliament outlawed Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays. However, December 25th was so popular as a festive day, that by 1660, the citizens reclaimed it. Their neglect of the religious aspects of December 25th resulted in a growing secularization of the holiday.
The Christmas tree tradition was started in Germany in the late 15th century. At that time a popular play depicted the expulsion of Adam Eve from Eden, by a fir tree hung with apples. Soon trees were placed in the homes of Christians who interpreted it as a symbol of the coming Savior. The apples were replaced with small white wafers to represent Communion. Later, the wafers were replaced by small pieces of pastry cut into shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells.
The origin of Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas originated with the Greek Christians. "X" is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ (Xristos="Christos"). Later Christians, unfamiliar with the Greek origin, mistook the X as a sign of disrespect and an attempt by unbelievers to rid Christmas of its central meaning. Some Christians still disapprove of the abbreviation.
SOURCE: Jeff Strite, Church of Christ at Logansport, IN.