The History of Christmas and How It Is Celebrated Around the World 

Dhruthi Mahesh

Christmas is celebrated by Christians every year on December 25th, and is celebrated to honor the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Modern-day celebrations include going to Church, gathering with family and friends to exchange gifts, and decorating Christmas trees; Christmas celebrations differ around the world, but the history of Christmas goes far beyond delicious food and presents. 

Christmas originated from pagan and Roman traditions. The Romans celebrated 2 holidays in December: Saturnalia, where they honor their god of agriculture (Saturn), and Mithra, to celebrate the birth of their Sun god on December 25th. On the darkest day of the year in December, those following pagan and Roman traditions lit bonfires with the belief that it would keep the darkness at bay. When Christianity spread throughout Europe, many debated when Jesus was born, so December 25th was adopted as Christmas day. 

Other modern-day Christmas traditions also originated from Roman and pagan cultures as well; they decorated their homes with green in anticipation of the upcoming spring, which is seen today with the decoration of Christmas trees. However, other Christmas traditions like Santa Claus actually have Christian roots. When Puritan settlers migrated to modern-day America, they banned Christmas because of its pagan roots and believed Christmas was “too extravagant.” Christmas only became an official holiday in the 1800s, and the different immigrant groups in America each brought their own traditions Today, many celebrate by gathering with family and friends, decorating homes and Christmas trees, and exchanging gifts. 

Each Latin American country also has its own Christmas traditions. Argentinians eat lamb, pork, and pan dulce (a vanilla bread with nuts), whereas tamales, pristiños (fried pastries with syrup), and humitas (a dish made from corn, onions, cheese and eggs) are popular in Ecuador. Many cities host street festivals, and Nativity scenes in homes and streets are common. 

In Norway and Sweden, Santa Lucia Day is celebrated in large gatherings, hospitals, and churches on December 13th. Lucia was a saint, and it’s believed that she helped persecuted Christians, who were hiding in tunnels, by guiding them using a wreath with candles on her head. Lucia is honored and celebrated today with a procession of girls carrying and handing out Lussekattor (saffron buns). 

France also has its own unique Christmas traditions. The Le Reveillon de Noël (the Christmas feast) is arguably one of the most important culinary events in the country. It’s a multi-course dinner, often lasting hours, with each region of the country having its own variation with local ingredients and recipes. The feast ends with a Bûche de Noël (Yule Log), which is a sponge cake covered in meringue, buttercream frosting, and almond paste. 

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