Christmas is the annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated on December 25 as a religious and cultural holiday by billions of people around the world.
A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it closes the Advent season and initiates the “twelve days of Christmastide” which ends this season on January 5th in 2014 with the Christian Feast of the Epiphany.
Christmas is a civil holiday in many of the world’s nations, is celebrated by an increasing number of non-Christians, and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season.
The birthday of Christ was widely celebrated in the early Christian Church as early as the late First and early Second Centuries, but it was in the early-to-mid Fourth century that the Western Christian Church first placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted also in the East. Theories advanced to explain that choice include that this date falls exactly nine months after the Christian celebration of the conception of Jesus, or that it was selected to coincide with either the date of the Roman winter solstice or of some ancient pagan winter festival.
The original date of the celebration in Eastern Christianity was fixed on January 6, in connection with Epiphany, and that is still the date of the celebration for the Armenian Apostolic Church and in Armenia, where it is a public holiday. The popular celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, Christmas music and caroling, an exchange of Christmas cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations, including Christmas trees, lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly.
In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas and Kris Kringle (among other names), are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore. 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.