Catholic Corner
December 23, 2021

Fun facts about Christmas!

First, Christmas is not a celebration of Jesus’ actual birthday! December 25th is not the date of his birth, rather scholars place the birth of Jesus around late Spring into Summer approximately 5 B.C.E.  If Christmas isn’t a celebration of Jesus’ birthday then what is it about? The Feast of Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation of the divine Word and the birth of Christ.  And though It is celebrated on December 25th it is not instituted as a Feast until the 4th Century.  It is introduced by the Church on this specific date as a means to replace previous Roman festivals held near the Winter Solstice, including a feast to the Sun God, known as Natalis Solis Invicti and another famous Roman mid-winter feast known as Saturnalia, though scholars do provide other theories having to do with complex mathematical formulas as contributing to the foundation of the 4th century Feast.

Many of the traditions we associate with the celebration of Christmas are brought to Christianity through converts and arise in earlier cultures.  For example, the Yule log which is from Norse tradition or the Christmas Tree which is a medieval German tradition.  Gift-giving is an ancient part of the Christmas celebration and though the historical roots are unclear, it most likely finds it’s scriptural roots in the account of the gifts of the Magi. Theologically, the Incarnation is the great gift, the gift of the Son given by the Father for the redemption of all humanity.  In the West, the giving of gifts occurs on December 25th, while in the East the tradition is to give gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Hymns associated with the Feast of Christmas appear by the 4th century in Rome.  What we would recognize as a traditional Carol comes later, closer to the 12th century and often had their roots in common folk songs.   Nativity scenes appear in Rome in the 10th Century and are popularized two centuries later by St. Francis.

Within the Christmas Season Roman Catholics celebrate the Octave of Christmas, beginning with Feast on December 25th and ending on January 1st, we celebrate Epiphany, and end the Season with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.