From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus . It is traditionally observed on December 25 . Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate it on January 7 , which corresponds to December 25 of the Julian calendar . These dates are merely traditional; the precise chronology of Jesus' birth and death is still debated. Christmas has many aspects, both religious and secular, including the exchange of gifts, Santa Claus , decoration and display of the Christmas tree , and religious ceremonies.
The popularity of Christmas can be traced in part to its status as a winter festival. Many cultures have historically celebrated their most important holiday in winter because there is less agricultural work to do at this time. Examples of winter festivals that have influenced Christmas include the pre-Christian festivals of Yule  and Saturnalia . Many of the traditions associated with the holiday have origins in these pagan winter celebrations.
Various local and regional Christmas traditions are still practiced, despite the widespread influence of American, Australian, and British Christmas motifs disseminated by film, popular literature, television, and other media.
Santa Claus and other bringers of gifts
In Western culture , the holiday is characterized by the exchange of gifts among friends and family members, some of the gifts being attributed to Santa Claus (also known as Father Christmas , Saint Nicholas , Joulupukki , Kris Kringle , Saint Basil and Father Frost ).
Father Christmas predates the Santa Claus character, and was first recorded in the 15th century, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness. Santa Claus is a variation of a Dutch folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, who gave gifts on the eve of his feast day of December 6 . He became associated with Christmas in 19th century America and was renamed Santa Claus or Saint Nick. In Victorian Britain, Father Christmas's image was remade to match that of Santa. The French equivalent of Santa, Père Noël , evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image.
The current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela ) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus , who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes. This story is meant to be a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and modern day globalization , most notably the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.
Christmas Tree and other decorations
The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. The phrase " Christmas tree " is first recorded in 1835 and represents the importation of a tradition from Germany, where such trees became popular in the late 18th century. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments . Since the 19th century, the poinsettia 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 garlands and evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe. In Australia , North and South America , and to a lesser extent Europe , it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs , snowmen , and other Christmas figures.
Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.
Although Christmas decorations, such as a tree, are considered secular in many parts of the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bans such displays as symbols of Christianity.
In the Western world , rolls of brightly-colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts.