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Even though Christmas is a religions holiday by nature – the holiday evolved over the years into a worldwide religious and secular celebration. Modern Christmas is a time dedicated to family, friends, and happiness.
For the first 3 centuries of Christianity’s existence, Jesus Christ’s birthday was not celebrated at all. Back then the most important holidays were Epiphany and Easter.
Early Roman calendar from 336 A.D. was the first official mention of December 25 as a holiday which honors the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible does not mention Jesus exact birth date. It was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus at the end of the third century and later this date became the universally accepted date.
A modern image of Santa Claus was defined by the popular advertisement for the Coca-Cola company from 1931, where Santa was a portly white-bearded gentleman dressed in a red suit with a black belt, black boots, and a soft red cap.
The practice of giving gifts goes back to the 15th century and toward the end of the 18th century, this practice became well established. In most European countries, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, December 24.
Santa Claus is a legendary figure who is the traditional patron of Christmas in some countries, who brings gifts to children. His popular image is based on traditions associated with Saint Nicholas.
In the 16th century, devout German Christians brought decorated trees into their homes and they started the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it. Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree in 1846.
Christmas customs in Europe
- Christmas Day is considered to be a family day in Croatia. So it’s a time when you either go to visit your extended family, or they will come and visit you.
- In Catalonia, the central figure of the Christmas is the Caga Tió (or Tió de Nadal). The tradition says that before beating the tió all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray, asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents.
- The tradition of joulusauna, or Christmas sauna, is one that dates back centuries in Finland. Here, families gather on Christmas Eve to purify their bodies and calm their minds before the onset of the festivities.
- Children put their shoes in front of the fire in the hope that they will be filled with gifts and treats by Sinterklaas as he makes his way across the rooftops on his white horse. Some even leave a carrot in their shoes for the horse.
- In Scandinavia, it's thought that every household has its own guardian spirit, or Nisse, in the form of a short man or woman who wears a hat and looks after the household or farm.
- Gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses are well-known the world over as a staple Christmas food, but arguably nowhere does them as well as Germany.
- The Krampus is a scary-looking creature who has appeared during Advent in Austria for centuries. The half-goat, half-demon beast is the definition of an anti-St. Nick, and folklore has it that he whips naughty children with his bundle of birch sticks and drags them down to his lair in hell.
- A Christmas legend in Italy that dates back to medieval times is that of La Befana, an old witch-like woman who was invited by the Three Wise Men to join them in visiting Baby Jesus.
- In French region of Provence, families scoff a whopping 13 desserts after the Christmas meal. Each treat is said to represent one of the 12 apostles, and there’s an extra one to represent Jesus.