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Merry Christmas: A guide to the history, significance and traditions of the festival

On December 25, various celebrations are held across India, and the world, to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. Read on to know how the festival came about, the rituals involved, and how it is celebrated.

art and culture Updated: Dec 25, 2017 08:50 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Christmas,Merry Christmas,Santa claus
Decorated Christmas trees are a common sight in the run-up to the festival.(Shutterstock)

Around the world, Christmas is a much-loved festival, and with good reason. After all, who doesn’t like to listen to carols, enjoy delectable goodies, and exchange gifts? The festival is associated with charity, spreading joy and spending time with family and friends.

The history of Christmas:

December 25 is celebrated as Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Joseph and Mary. The month and date of his birth are not known, but by the early-to-mid-fourth century, the Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25. This date was later adopted around the world. In 1870, the United States declared Christmas a federal holiday.

Common rituals:

In the run-up to Christmas, people often go door-to-door in small groups singing carols. This adds to the festive cheer. Decorations form an integral part of the charm of Christmas. People love doing up their houses, even offices, with wreaths, candy canes, holly, mistletoe and stockings. And, of course, a Christmas tree — whether really tall or miniature — with colourful ornaments, is a must. Dressed in their finest, believers also attend midnight mass at churches on the eve of Christmas.

Many individuals and churches set up a nativity scene, depicting the birth of Christ. A manger or barn is recreated, and there are figures representing Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. They are usually surrounded by angels, the biblical Magi, shepherds, and animals like a donkey, ox and camels.

Young children and grown-ups alike exchange Christmas cards and gifts on the day. (Shutterstock)

The legend of Santa Claus:

When we talk of Christmas, Santa Claus can’t be far behind. As children are told, Santa, or St Nicholas, lives in the North Pole. He has a flowy white beard to complement his pot belly, and often goes “Ho ho ho!” in a jovial manner. On the eve of Christmas, he visits the houses of people who have been nice throughout the year and leaves behind gifts for them. Young children are encouraged to leave out empty stockings for presents, before going to bed. Even grown-ups exchange Christmas cards and gifts on the day.

The legend of Santa Claus goes back hundreds of years to a monk named St Nicholas. He is said to have been born sometime around 280 AD in Patara, near Myra in present-day Turkey. He became the subject of legends as he was admired for his piety and kindness.

The food and drinks:

If it’s a festival, there are inevitably delicious dishes around. Christmas scores high on the dessert quotient, what with gingerbread, cookies, plum cakes, marzipan, rum balls, and candies in abundance. Wait, there’s more: bebinca, guava cheese and dodol are also popular during this season. Some of the commonly prepared foods in India during Christmas include roast chicken, pork and beef curries, vindaloo, sorpotel, mutton stew, mince pie and duck roast. Many also love pairing the festive feast with home-made wines.

If it’s a festival, there are inevitably some delicious dishes around. (Shutterstock)

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First Published: Dec 25, 2017 08:49 IST