Christmas is one of the most important feasts for Christians, as we celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, many traditions and forms of celebration exist, especially as Christmas has become an integral part of Western culture. Today, we wish to share with you seven facts about how Christians celebrated Christmas in ancient times. Our hope is that you discover the roots of your Christian heritage from those Christians who celebrated before us.
The early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. As you know, Christianity began to develop against the background of Judaism. According to Jewish doctrine, the day of a person's birth was considered the beginning of his suffering. “The day of death (is better than) the day of birth,” says Ecclesiastes (Eccl. 7: 1). In view of this, the first generations of Christians focused more on the suffering, death and Resurrection of the Savior.
On the other hand, the ancient Greeks widely celebrated birthdays. The Church absorbed this part of the Hellenistic cultural heritage, and Christians eventually began to celebrate the Nativity of Christ. The first records of celebrating Christmas date back to the 4th century, while the holiday was not universally accepted until the 5th century.
Initially, the Nativity of Christ together with three more Gospel events, comprised the Feast of the Epiphany, mostly associated today with the Baptism of the Lord. The three mentioned events were 1) the adoration of the Magi (signifying the Lord’s first appearance to the nations of the world), 2) the Baptism of Christ (marking the beginning of His ministry) and 3) the transformation of water into wine during the marriage at Cana (regarded as His first miracle). Nativity was then celebrated as God’s incarnation into the world.
Contrary to popular belief, January 7 (December 25) is not a conventional date for celebrating Christmas. However, a number of ancient writers testify that the Savior was born on this particular day. The earliest evidence to this (225) is contained in the annals of Sextus Julius Africanus.
Ancient Christians considered that the birth of the Savior on the solstice day was not accidental. St Augustine Aurelius explains it the following way, “He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase”.
St Dionysius Exiguus first proposed the Nativity of Christ as the beginning of Christian chronology. This form was adopted in the 6th century. Before that, there had been many calendars, each offering a different starting point in history. The Romans, both Christians and non-Christians, used to count years from the births of emperors, while Jews started their chronology from the creation of the world. The Nativity of Christ united all nations of the world, and the Christian calendar eventually replaced all others.
The tradition of giving presents came from antiquity. St Nicholas of Myra of the 4th century, who is known as the prototype of Santa Claus, secretly gave presents to both friends and strangers. Today, many Christians in different parts of the world do the same. It is worth noting that the presents given by St Nicholas were rather primary necessities than devotional items.
Following the tradition originated by St Nicholas and feeling his special prayerful intercession over our convent, we are glad to offer you our handmade Christmas gifts, created to remind your loved ones of the all-time basic necessity, the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ and the joy of His Birth.
Our Convent's Online Christmas Market is already open. Follow the link and order gifts for your families and friends, so that we can deliver them in time for the holiday. All products in our workshops are made with prayer and love!