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You are here : home > Indian Culture > Religions of India > What is Christmas?

What is Christmas?

What is Christmas?

Christmas originates from the word Cristes maesse, or "Christ's Mass." The first Christmas is estimated to be around 336 AD in Rome. It was celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

According to the legends, the birth of Jesus dates back to the time of the Roman Empire that was ruled by Caesar Augustus. Israel was then under the rule of King Herod. Joseph was a carpenter in the small village of Nazareth. He was to be married to Mary. Mary once dreamt of an angel who told her she would bear the Son of God whom should be named Jesus. One day everyone was instructed by the emperor to go back to his or her town of birth. So Mary and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem. Mary was going to have a baby, so she rode a donkey and Joseph walked beside her. It was night soon and a storm came on. The couple took shelter in a nearby stable. It was there that Jesus was born. Christmas is celebrated to commemorate that day.

Santa Claus

As the legend goes, Santa Claus has been modeled after Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a priest who was known for his generosity especially towards children. Born in a rich family, he was orphaned at a very young age. He became a priest at the age of 17 years. There are stories of him dropping down bags of gold in chimneys or throwing gold through the windows whereby it landed in the stockings hung near the fireplace to dry. After some years, Nicholas became a bishop and his white beard and red cap came into existence. After his death in 334 AD, a church was built in his honor in the port town of Bari in Southern Italy. This church became a famous one and had Christian pilgrims from all over the world. The legend of Saint Nicholas spread and took different shapes in different countries. When the Dutch colonists came to America they brought with them Sinterklaas, an austere bishop who wore a red bishop's costume and rode on a white horse. The American image of Sinterklaas slowly evolved into a jolly old elf by the name of Santa Claus. Since then Santa Claus has become an integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Christmas tree

The exact origin of the Christmas tree is not known, but there are many theories floating around. The most widely believed one is that Martin Luther, the founder of protestant faith conceptualized the Christmas tree. He was walking in the forest on Christmas Eve. As he walked through the forest he saw millions of stars shimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. He found the view so fascinating that he cut a small tree and took it home. To recreate the same beauty, he lit candles on the branches of the tree. Thus began the tradition of a Christmas tree.

Another legend claims that a poor woodsman met a lost and hungry child. He gave food and shelter to the child although he was too poor himself. When he woke up next morning he saw a glittering tree outside his house. The child whom he had invited into his home was Christ disguised as a poor child. He gifted the tree to the woodsman for his good deed and the concept of Christmas tree came into existence.


Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer has surprisingly come not from a legend but as an advertising gimmick in 1939. The Santa at Montgomery Ward Stores gave over two million copies of a booklet by the name of `Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer'. Robert May, an advertiser wrote the story and Denver Gillen did the illustrations. The original name of Rudolph was Rollo but the executives didn't like this name. So the name was changed to Rudolph after the author's young daughter. Thus, Rudolph was integrated as Santa's reindeer during Christmas.


In Scandinavia, the mistletoe is identified with the goddess of love, Frigga. That is how the custom of kissing under the mistletoe came into existence. Mistletoe is a vital part of the Christmas decorations.

To discover five new ways of celebrating Christmas - Click here

Read about exciting ways of celebrating Christmas in different countries - Click here

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