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The True Meaning of Christmas: History, Background & Origins [Updated Nov. 2023]


Christmas is the time of year when colorful lights and decorations go up, and people plan their parties. Shoppers go crazy, nearly knocking each other over, looking for bargains on the latest hot items. Children visit Santa to tell him what they want.


At Christmas parties, there are games, gift exchanges, and holiday music playing in the background. School lets out, and children rush home to get ready for Santa. The season starts right after Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year, filled with planning, baking, gatherings, Christmas shopping, gifts and festive décor


Christmas means something different to everyone. To some people, it is a time of sadness and despair. For others, it is a time to rejoice.


The confusion comes with not knowing the real reason for the season. Commercialism has taken over and turned a religious holiday into something secular. That said, what is the real meaning of Christmas?

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The Christmas definition is “Mass of Christ.”

The True Christmas Meaning

Let’s look into the deeper meaning of Christmas. It is a celebration of the birth of a Saviour, Jesus Christ. What does “birth” mean? It is the beginning of something new. When Jesus was born, he brought new hope to the world. 


The Christmas definition is “Mass of Christ.” The word Christmas is one that the early Roman Catholic church created to remember Christ by attending a mass or service, Cristes maesse. No one knows the exact date of his birth, but we observe it every year in December. 

The History of Christmas

About 2,000 years ago, a special child was born in the small town of Bethlehem. A young couple named Joseph and Mary, who planned to marry, was expecting a baby. Mary was a servant of God. Although she was a virgin, God chose her to carry his son, the Messiah. 


When Mary and Joseph reached Bethlehem, they sought a place to stay, but nothing was available. One innkeeper directed them to a stable outside of the inn. After the couple settled in, Mary went into labor and gave birth to Jesus. 


After Jesus was born, some gathered and brought Him gifts. Today, gift exchange is a common practice. It is a symbolization of the giving spirit. Just as God gave us his son to pay for our sins, we exchange gifts with each other. However, greed has taken it out of context and made it a pagan ritual


Why is that baby boy so special? God sent him to Earth to save the world from sin. The truth is, that we should remember him 365 days of the year instead of one holiday. We do not need a month-long celebratory event with a fancy name to honor Him. 

The Origin of Christmas

couple wearing santa hats


Christmas became a national holiday in 1870. Why do we celebrate on December 25? In the year 221, Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian historian, determined December 25th as Jesus’ birthday.  


It dates back to the 4th century when the Romans celebrated the “day of the birth of the unconquered sun” (in late December) to symbolize the rebirth of Spring and the end of Winter. Other philosophers believed that the conception of Jesus occurred in Spring, which approximates his birth around the end of December.

Pagan or Christian?

So, is celebrating Christmas pagan? The holiday itself originates in pagan rituals. The true Christmas meaning is the birth of Christ. 


Even in the Bible, there was a celebration. After hearing the good news, shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus after his birth. Everyone rejoiced that Jesus was the Son of God and Saviour of all mankind. Celebrations in Biblical times were different from those today.  


To answer the question “Is Christmas pagan?” The answer is yes. Is it a sin to observe Christmas? No. The Bible does not condone celebrating holidays, nor does it prohibit them. 

Pagan Rituals

The practice of celebrating Christmas-like occasions is a pagan tradition. For example, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and Santa Claus are idols symbols of pagan beliefs. Singing songs like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a tradition that we all practice, but there is no Biblical significance to that tradition. 

Christmas Trees

The main meaning of the Christmas tree has no relation to Nativity. Covering the tree with ornaments and lights and placing gifts under it is a man-made practice. Before Jesus’ time, people idolized trees and used them as protection against evil or harmful things.  Early Romans decorated their homes with trees to celebrate the winter solstice. 

Santa Claus

Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle, symbolizes the spirit of giving in the form of a beloved character who travels the world on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts to kids. Back in the third century, a man that everyone called Father Christmas traveled the world to help those who were less fortunate. 


He became what we know him as now, Santa Claus. What makes Santa an idol is that children learn from their parents that Christmas is about receiving gifts from a man in a red suit. As children grow up, they hear the truth about Santa. 

gnome with christmas decor


What was the original mistletoe meaning? Historically, the mistletoe served many purposes. In ancient Rome, it was a healing plant and a symbol of love and fertility. It brought good fortune to anyone who kissed under it. At Christmastime, Celtics hung mistletoe around their homes to protect against illness and offer peace. 


Christmas decorations, wreaths, caroling, and other popular traditions are a part of the pagan customs. They are fun, but they have nothing to do with Christ.

wrapped presents

From a Christian Standpoint

Christians celebrate Jesus, not the holiday. Although it is fun to be a part of the festivities, it is not about gifts or trees with lights and decorations. It is about Jesus. 


Remembrance of his birth should be a daily commitment, not something that happens only once a year. Either way, what we do should please God. As long as we keep our intentions holy and remember the true reason for the season, we are honoring Him.

family putting up a christmas tree

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