And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The birth of Jesus Christ, described in this passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke in the New Testament, has been celebrated by Christians for more than 1600 years. Christmas (from Old English Cristes maesse or "Mass of Christ") is observed annually on December 25 although the exact date of Christ's birth is not known. The Christmas season begins on the First Sunday of Advent and ends on Epiphany.
Christmas is celebrated in many different ways around the world. In the United States and other countries, many churches and homes display a crche, or Nativity scene. These scenes include figurines of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus in the stable. They are usually surrounded by the shepherds, angels, the Magi, and animals. Some churches also have a live nativity service. Such services originated during the Middle Ages when many people could not read Latin, the language of the Church. St. Francis of Assisi is generally credited with the idea of recreating the stable scene with a wooden crib occupied by a wax figure of the infant Jesus. However, local people played the roles of Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. Live animals usually completed the re-enactment.
Many Christians attend a midnight Mass or other Christmas Eve services at churches which are usually decorated with poinsettias, candles and greenery. These services are often followed by another service on Christmas Day.
Christmas is also a popular secular holiday which focuses upon the many versions of St. Nicholas and other traditions such as Christmas carols, mistletoe, Christmas cards, and giftgiving. Children write letters to Santa Claus and tell him what they'd like to receive for Christmas. With help from his elves, Santa prepares the gifts and then, on Christmas Eve, he leaves the North Pole in his reindeer-guided sleigh. Rudolph leads the reindeer across the sky and onto each housetop. Santa carries the gifts down the chimney at each home and places them under the Christmas tree. Usually, the children of the house leave cookies and milk for Santa.
Santa Claus is known by other names in different parts of the world. For example, in Germany, he is known as Kris Kringle (from Christkindle or "Christ child") while the French call him Pere Noel.
Many people celebrate Christmas with elements of both the religious observances and the secular rituals. However, some Christians reject the customs with pagan origins and many secularists discount the story of Christ's birth. Regardless of whether the celebration is religious or secular, the main spirit of the season remains.
The Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Page has dozens of links for Christmas recipes, crafts, stories, activities, music and much more.
northpole.com provides e-mail to Santa, crafts and recipes, carols, and a history of Santa Claus.