Most Christians today probably can’t imagine Christmas on any other day than December 25, but it wasn’t always celebrated then.
As the name implies, people originally intended to honor Jesus Christ with this holiday.
The Bible is silent on the day or the time of year when Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. For the first three hundred years Jesus birth wasn’t celebrated at all. Christianity’s most significant holidays were Epiphany on January 6, which commemorated the arrival of the Magi after Jesus’ birth and Easter, which celebrated Jesus’ resurrection.
The first official mention of December 25 as a holiday honoring Jesus’ birthday appears in an early Roman calendar from 336 A.D.
There are actually a number of different accounts as to how and when December 25th became known as Jesus’s birthday.
By most accounts, the birth was first thought to have taken place on January 6th because...well, nobody knows for sure. In the Nativity story in the Bible the presence of shepherds and their sheep suggest a spring birth.
When the Catholic church officials settled on December 25 at the end of the third century, they likely wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light). That way, it became easier to convince Rome’s pagan subjects to accept Christianity as the empire’s official religion
The celebration of Christmas spread throughout the Western world over the next several centuries, but many Christians continued to view Epiphany and Easter as more important.
The Puritans arrived in the United States in 1630 and settled Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were a large group of settlers and were quite wealthy and by the 1640s, there were at least 10,000 Puritan colonists in America.
They banned the observance of Christmas because they viewed its traditions such as the offering of gifts and decorating trees, etc. as linked to paganism. In the early days of the United States, celebrating Christmas was considered a British custom and fell out of style following the American Revolution.
It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became a federal holiday. Even though Christmas is for many Americans a religious holiday, the federal courts have upheld its status as a legal holiday. As one court reasoned, “by giving federal employees a paid vacation day on Christmas, the government is doing no more than recognizing the cultural significance of the holiday.”
The commercialized Christmas began to emerge in the 1800s with the new custom of purchasing gifts for children and Christmas shopping began to assume a huge economic importance.
Other Christmas traditions also began during that time such as Santa Claus (derived from the Dutch Sinter Klaas and the German Saint Nicholas) when he appeared as a jolly dispenser of gifts and driving a reindeer-drawn sleigh through. Such works as the 1823 poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" helped popularize Santa as we know him today.
Germany is credited with starting the tradition of Christmas trees in the 1500s and according to legend, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther first added lighted candles to a tree to remind his children of the wonders of God’s creation. Christmas trees became popular in Britain and the United States in the 1800s.
Mass-produced Christmas cards began to appear in the last quarter of the 1800s and today Americans will mail some 16.6 billion Christmas cards, letters and packages over the holidays.
For many it’s all about a family celebration when the whole family is gathered and has a sense of togetherness, gifts and food. In reality, preparation can be stressful and even present a financial burden. Preparing the meal, cleaning the house etc. can be a lot of work. People can be under a lot of pressure, trying not to forget to send anyone Christmas cards and making sure they buy presents even if they have to go into debt.That's the power of advertising.