KARIBU MAISHANI

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

what is Christmas



Christmas[3] or Christmas Day[4][5] is a holiday observed generally on December 25[6] to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity.[7][8] The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived,[9] the date of the Roman winter solstice,[10] or one of various ancient winter festivals.[9][11] Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.[12]

Although nominally a Christian holiday, Christmas is also celebrated by an increasing number of non-Christians worldwide,[1][13][14] and many of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of greeting cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe, nativity scenes, and holly. In addition, several figures, known as Saint Nicholas and certain mythological figures such as Father Christmas and Santa Claus among other names, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season.[15]

Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world




Etymology



The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.[8] "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century.[16] Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Celebration
Further information: Christmas worldwide
Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In some non-Christian countries, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong); in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Countries such as Japan and Korea, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations and Christmas trees. Notable countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include People's Republic of China, (excepting Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and North Korea. Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions.

Among countries with a strong Christian tradition, a variety of Christmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures. For Christians, participating in a religious service plays an important part in the recognition of the season. Christmas, along with Easter, is the period of highest annual church attendance. In Catholic countries, the people hold religious processions or parades in the days preceding Christmas. In other countries, secular processions or parades featuring Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held. Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season. Gift giving takes place on Christmas Day in most countries. Others practice gift giving on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day, and January 6, Epiphany.


The Nativity by Charles-François Poerson, 1667.Date of celebration
For centuries, Christian writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born.[17] In the early 18th century, scholars began proposing alternative explanations. Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the winter solstice,[10] which the Romans called bruma and celebrated on December 25.[18] In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church.[11] According to Judeo-Christian tradition, creation as described in the Genesis creation narrative occurred on the date of the spring equinox, i.e. March 25 on the Roman calendar. This date is now celebrated as Annunciation and as the anniversary of Incarnation.[19] In 1889, Louis Duchesne suggested that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after Annunciation, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus.[20]

The December 25 date may have been selected by the church in Rome in the early 4th century. At this time, a church calendar was created and other holidays were also placed on solar dates: "It is cosmic symbolism...which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas," according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans.[21]

However, today, whether or not the birth date of Jesus is on December 25 is not considered to be an important issue in mainstream Christian denominations;[22][23][24] rather, celebrating the coming of God into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity is considered to be the primary meaning of Christmas.[22][23][24]

Some Christians have called for opposition to the commercialization of Christmas, since the exchange of purchased gifts has nothing to do with the philosophy of Christ. [25]

Orthodox Christian Churches
For details on religious observances, see Christmas Eve.
Eastern Orthodox national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Egypt, Ukraine, the Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem mark feasts using the older Julian Calendar. December 25 on that calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar. However, the majority of Orthodox Christians began using the Revised Julian Calendar in the early 20th century, which corresponds exactly to the Gregorian Calendar. Therefore, most Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on the same day as Western Christianity. Oriental Orthodox churches also use their own calendars, which are generally similar to the Julian calendar. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the nativity in combination with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Armenian churches customarily use the Gregorian calendar, but some use the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Christmas Day on January 19, and Christmas Eve on January 18 (according to the Gregorian calendar).




Orthodox Christian Churches



For details on religious observances, see Christmas Eve.
Eastern Orthodox national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Egypt, Ukraine, the Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem mark feasts using the older Julian Calendar. December 25 on that calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar. However, the majority of Orthodox Christians began using the Revised Julian Calendar in the early 20th century, which corresponds exactly to the Gregorian Calendar. Therefore, most Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on the same day as Western Christianity. Oriental Orthodox churches also use their own calendars, which are generally similar to the Julian calendar. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the nativity in combination with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Armenian churches customarily use the Gregorian calendar, but some use the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Christmas Day on January 19, and Christmas Eve on January 18 (according to the Gregorian calendar).[26]

Commemorating Jesus’ birth
Main articles: Annunciation, Nativity of Jesus, and Child Jesus
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary as a fulfillment of the Old Testament's Messianic prophecy.[27] The Bible contains two accounts which describe the events surrounding Jesus' birth. Depending on one's perspective, these accounts either differ from each other or tell two versions of the same story [28] [29][30][31] These biblical accounts are found in the Gospel of Matthew, namely Matthew 1:18, and the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 1:26 and 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem.

According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, though neither the stable nor the animals are specifically mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a manger is mentioned in Luke 2:7, where it states, "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Early iconographic representations of the nativity placed the animals and manger within a cave (located, according to tradition, under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child.[32] The Gospel of Matthew also describes a visit by several Magi, or astrologers, who bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The visitors were said to be following a mysterious star, commonly known as the Star of Bethlehem, believing it to announce the birth of a king of the Jews.[33] The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6, is the formal end of the Christmas season in some churches.


Anbetung der Hirten (Adoration of the Shepherds) (c. 1500–10), by Italian painter Giorgio da CastelfrancoChristians celebrate Christmas in various ways. In addition to this day being one of the most important and popular for the attendance of church services, there are other devotions and popular traditions. In some Christian denominations, children re-enact the events of the Nativity with animals to portray the event with more realism or sing carols that reference the event. Some Christians also display a small re-creation of the Nativity, known as a Nativity scene or crèche, in their homes, using figurines to portray the key characters of the event. Prior to Christmas Day, the Eastern Orthodox Church practices the 40-day Nativity Fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, while much of Western Christianity celebrates four weeks of Advent. The final preparations for Christmas are made on Christmas Eve.

A long artistic tradition has grown of producing painted depictions of the nativity in art. Nativity scenes are traditionally set in a barn or stable and include Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, angels, shepherds and the Three Wise Men: Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, who are said to have followed a star, known as the Star of Bethlehem, and arrived after his birth.



Decorations and symbols


Main article: Christmas decoration
See also: Christmas tree, Christmas lights, Christmas stocking, and Christmas ornament

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of this Christmas display with over 3.5 million lights.The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter. Decorating with greenery was also part of Jewish tradition : "Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. " (Leviticus 23:40)

Christians incorporated such customs in their developing practices. In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green".[35] The heart-shaped leaves of ivy were said to symbolise the coming to earth of Jesus, while holly was seen as protection against pagans and witches, its thorns and red berries held to represent the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion and the blood he shed.[36][37]

Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome. They were popularised by Saint Francis of Asissi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe.[38] Different types of decorations developed across the Christian world, dependent on local tradition and available resources. The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children.[39] In countries where a representation of the Nativity Scene is very popular, people are encouraged to compete and create the most original or realistic ones. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom.

The traditional colors of Christmas are green and red.[40] White, silver and gold are also popular. 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.[40][37]


A Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, New York CityThe Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship.[41] The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835[42] and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century[41] though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century.[43][44] From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain.[45] By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.[46] Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.

Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels.

Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places.[47] It is common in many parts of the world for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.

In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

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