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Home > Religious Festivals > Christian Festivals > Christmas
Christmas
ChristmasChristmas celebrates the Nativity of Christ, founder of Christianity on 25th of December every year. It is the gayest of Christian festivals.

The word Christmas comes from the words Cristes maesse, or "Christ`s Mass." Historians claim that the first celebration of Christmas took place in Rome in 336 A.D.

It was an important festival during British period all over India. After India achieved Independence from the British rule, this festival lost much of its official importance. The tradition of celebrating it that was left behind by the British continues even to this day, specially, in metropolitan cities of Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay and Madras where Christians as well as non-Christians celebrate it on quite a grand scale.

Among Catholics who follow European customs, dances, carols, Christmas trees, arrival of Santa Claus, midnight mass form the main celebrations of Christmas. Night is enlivened by carols, dances and the midnight mass, and preparation of dishes for the Christmas feast. The day is spent in visiting friends and relatives, and in feasting. Sending Christmas cards has become almost a religious duty for Indian Christians too.

These are generally the customs introduced by Europeans and followed by Christians, practically all over lndia. But, there are certain interesting Christmas observances among Syrian Christians which are survivals of the pre-Portuguese period. Among the lower middle classes and the poor who cannot afford European styles, Christmas is celebrated with cakes made of rice flour, plantains and a feast. Christmas cards are not sent. The only important item of good wishes is the sending of home-made cakes to houses in mourning. Some sections of Syrians forbid meat eating during Advent (from 1st December till Christmas eve). Further, all Syrian Christians do not at present celebrate Christmas on the 25th day of December. Some of the Nestorians, who are quite numerous in central Kerala, celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, and this takes us to the origin of the Christmas festival and the date of Jesus` Nativity. ChristmasAmong early Christians, the Nativity was not celebrated. Christianity had grown up in blood and tears and the early Christians in the Roman Empire were a hunted sect who had to perforce practise their religion in secret. To publicly profess Christianity was an hazardous venture and one which accompanied grave risks, even death. Under these conditions, events connected with the life of Christ were commemorated by fasts, prayers and purificatory rites and not public gaiety. After the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in the fourth century of the Christian era, the creed professed by a few secret groups of zealots in different parts of the Roman Empire was transformed into the religion of vast masses of humanity. This change gained grounds in Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, and with this the need for popular festivals arose. It was then, decided to annually celebrate the birth of Christ in a fitting manner. But, it was found that different congregations had observed the day on different dates. The 6th of January, 19th of April, 20th of May,17th of November and 25th of December, were all advanced as the dates of the birth of Christ. `

By the fifth century of the Christian era, however, the 25th of December came to be accepted as the date of the Nativity in the Western world and slowly the Eastern Churches fell into line with the West. Further, the winter solstice was from time immemorial a festal season for the peoples of northern Europe. When these were converted to Christianity, the Popes, appreciating the partiality of the folk for their ancient festivals, allowed them to continue their winter celebrations though care was taken to substitute Christian legends in place of non-Christian religious traditions.

This was possibly, the main reason for fixing the date of the Nativity as 25th December. In A.D.1582, the Gregorian Calendar superseded the Julian. Those who follow the latter, celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, which date in the present century corresponds to the 25th December of Julian reckoning.

Christmas Greeting CardsPeople decorate their houses; erect Christmas trees; make cribs with figures of baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, the three kings who come to visit the baby and shepherd boys and their herds grazing around depicting the scenes of Jesus` Birth in the Bible. They decorate the Christmas tree, hang stars, gifts and illuminate them.

Markets, homes and churches take on a festive air. There is lot of activity all around. Balls, elaborately decorated Christmas trees, delicious cakes and Santa Claus moving in the streets distributing goodies to the children are the main attractions of the festival. Christmas cards expressing greetings of Merry X`mas are exchanged during Christmas. The custom of sending Cards was established in 1870 in England.

Goa, a former colony of Portugal, incorporates a culture, which is perfect blend of Portuguese and Indian style. People here observe all the festivals of all religions equally. Christmas is one such festival, which the people of Goa celebrate with equal vigour. The Christians and non-Christians in Goa observe this day with great honor towards Christ. The celebrations last for 3 days and tourists also participate.

In northwest India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil folk, an aboriginal people, go out night after night for a week at Christmas to sing their equivalent of carols the whole night through.

In south India, Christians fill little clay lamps with oil and put a piece of twisted cotton in them for wicks. Towards the evening, they light these lamps and place them along the edge of the low flat- roofed houses and also along the walls outside. The houses twinkle with light. When non- Christians ask about this, it presents an opportunity to share the Christmas story.
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Christmas Holy Week
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