The origins of Christmas

How did it all start?!

The origins of the holiday and its December date lie in the ancient Greco-Roman world, as commemorations probably began sometime in the 2nd century. There are at least three possible origins for the December date.


The Roman Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus dated Jesus’ conception to March 25 (the same date upon which he held that the world was created), which, after nine months in his mother’s womb, would result in a December 25 birth.

In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire, which at the time had not adopted Christianity, celebrated the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) on December 25th—this holiday not only marked the return of longer days after the winter solstice but also followed the popular Roman festival called the Saturnalia (during which people feasted and exchanged gifts). It was also the birthday of the Indo-European deity Mithra, a god of light and loyalty whose cult was at the time growing popular among Roman soldiers.

As the church in Rome only formally celebrated December 25th in 336 during the reign of the emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, some have speculated that choosing this date had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations. The date was not widely accepted in the Eastern empire, where January 6 had been favored, for another half-century, and Christmas did not become a major Christian festival until the 9th century.

Oh Christmas Tree!

The christmas Tree, which is one of our most cherished traditions around the holiday seasons dates back the Canaanite and Phoenician pagan traditions. Erecting a tree in ones home used to be considered as a homage to  Asherah or “The Queen of Heaven” also known as the consort of the god Baal. The Evergreen tree had a very special meaning to the pagans , since it was the only one who did not fade and die during winter and represented fertility, strength and also thought to have magical powers.


On the other hand Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.

The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life

Christmas Presents !

In Pre-Christian Rome, Citizens would bring offerings to their rulers during the Saturnalia in December. This custom expanded to general populations and was then adopted by the christian church to symbolize the gift giving of Saint Nicholas.


Santa is coming to town! 

In 345 CE Senior Bishop Nicholas died on December 6th. Knowing that Nicholas was only named saint in 19th century, he remained the center of a cult until then.

in the 1080’s a group of sailors who worshiped the Bishop moved his remains to Italy where they adopted the tradition of a Deity called The Grandmother or “Pasqua Epiphania” who used to fill children’s stocking with gifts (and this is why we hang stockings on the chimney and windows). This became the center of the Nicholas Cult, and his followers used to exchange gifts yearly on the anniversary of his Death.




Helwi El Hayet

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About helwielhayet

Helwi el-Hayet discusses your favorite topics every week day at 4:30 p.m. Beirut time. From fashion to psychology to books to art to nutrition to cooking and coaching (and much, much more), Helwi el-Hayet is here to shed light on the latest trends and to share with you reports, interviews and recipes from Lebanon and the region!
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