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Who Picked December 25 to Celebrate Christmas?

This religious and cultural holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated by billions of people around the world, and almost all of them do so on the same day. It could be safe to say it is the largest celebration on the planet.

While no one actually knows the date of Jesus’ birth, by the mid 4th century, the Western Christian Church had chosen December 25th. This date may have been chosen based on the date exactly 9 months after the day on which early Christians believed that Jesus was conceived, or perhaps when ancient festivals occurred near the Roman winter solstice. According to the writings of numerous ancient scholars, living as early as c. 130-202, they calculated that Jesus was conceived and died on March 25th and therefore born on December 25th. The same day that many believed the sun was created.

Over the centuries that followed, Christmas Day slowly became more prominent and at least three distinctive Western rulers were all recognized on December 25th: Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in 800, King Edmund the Martyr was anointed in 855 and King William I of England was crowned in 1066. By the time of the High Middle Ages various magnates were celebrating the holiday. One example: in 1377 King Richard II of England hosted a rather remarkable feast at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten.

During the Reformation in the 16th-17th century many Protestants changed the date of their annual gift giving from December 6 to Christmas Eve. Then during the 17th century there were fierce disagreements between Puritans, Anglicans and Catholics about the celebration of Christmas on any given day. England’s Puritan rulers even banned Christmas in 1647. Riots broke out, but the ban was not lifted till 1660. In Scotland observation of Christmas was abolished in 1640, and it was not until 1958 that Christmas once again became a Scottish public holiday.

In Colonial America, the Pilgrims and Non-Puritans disagreed over the approval of Christmas and it was outlawed in Boston in 1659, not to become fashionable until the mid-19th century. While the observation of Christmas or lack there of over the past 450 years is a story unto itself, clearly the holiday along with the designated date of December 25th has managed to survive.

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