Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Born nearly two thousand years ago, Christians believe Him to be the Son of God. Whether Jesus was really born on December 25th, no one can say for sure. It was believed the Nativity took place on the 25th of the month, but which month was uncertain. During the third century it was a common belief that Christ was born on the winter solstice. Another third century set of writings, The Apostolic Constitutions, indicate the Apostles ordained that the feast be kept on the 25th day of the ninth month which, at that time, was December.
The Roman church established December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ around A.D. 310. Though questioned for several generations by the Eastern Church, December 25th became universal in the fifth century.
There were other holidays celebrated at this time of year. Saturnaia was the Roman holiday celebrated in December. It was a time of feasting and parties. Also, in northern Europe there was a holiday known as Yule that was celebrated by making great fires. People would dance around these fires yelling for the winter to end.
In time, Christmas took the place of these holidays, but some of the old customs – such as burning the Yule log and having feasts and parties—have continued. The word Yule is still used as a name for the Christmas season. In time, the symbol most closely associated with Christmas today—the Christmas tree—became a holiday tradition. The Christmas tree was first commonly used in Germany to celebrate Christmas. As the Germans settled in new lands they brought this tradition with them.
Many Christmas customs are based on the story of the birth of Christ. The tradition of giving presents stems from gifts the Three Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus. Singing Christmas carols is reminiscent of the gathering of angels, shepherds, Wise Men and animals that surrounded the baby Jesus.