Christmas Day honors the birth of Jesus, which historically but improbably occurred on December 25, 1 BC. Most nations will have a public holiday on December 25. In the event that December 25 falls on a weekend, a neighboring weekday may be observed as a holiday in its place.
While the holiday is firmly rooted in the account of Jesus' birth, many of the customs we associate with it have come from pre-Christian beliefs. In addition, these customs have expanded beyond just being associated with a Christian holiday to take on a broader secular significance.
Christmas is undoubtedly celebrated in late December because there are already festivities honoring the Winter Solstice taking place at that time.
According to the Julian calendar, the winter solstice fell on December 25, which was also the day of the well-known Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was celebrated in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Later, Sol Invictus, a day that combined the celebration of several sun-based gods into one convenient festival, replaced Saturnalia.
The timing of the celebration of the birth of Christ became rather controversial as Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond, with various alternate dates being suggested.
Pope Julius I, who was the Roman bishop at the time, did not set December 25 as the official Christmas holiday until 350 AD. Unfortunately, Julius I failed to demonstrate how he worked out.
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