For Roman Catholics, the Christmas season lasts from Christmas Day until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Other traditions end the Christmas season on the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Day of Christmas) or, in earlier times, on the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas) on 2 February, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.
|December 25||Christmas Day|
|January 1||Octave of Christmas; Solemnity of Mary Mother of God|
|December 25 - January 5||Twelve Days of Christmas|
|Sunday between January 2 to January 8||Epiphany|
|Sunday or Monday after Epiphany||Baptism of the Lord|
Feast of Presentation (Candlemas)
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Catholic liturgy begins counting the 12 days on Christmas itself.
|26||2||Feast of Steven|
|27||3||Feast of John the Apostle|
|28||4||Feast of the Holy Innocents|
|29||5||Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr|
|1 January||8||Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God|
Formerly the "Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus" and the Octave of Christmas.
|2||9||Sts. Basil and Gregory, Bishops and Doctors|
|4||11||St. Elizabeth Ann Seton|
|5||12||St. John Neumann, Bishop|
Some people may start the count on December 26 and see January 6 as the Twelfth Day.
- Snopes: "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Snopes says that the legend of encoding the catechism in the song is false. Others disagree. Such is life! The first English version of the song, possibly derived from a French original, appeared in 1780. The allegation that it was a Jesuit code intended to confound English persecutors dates to the 1990s.
|A Partridge in a Pear Tree||Jesus Himself.|
|2 Turtle doves||Old and New Testaments|
|3 French hens||Trinity, Three Supernatural Virtues (faith, hope, and love)|
|4 Colly birds||The four evangelists|
|5 Gold rings||Pentateuch|
|6 Geese-a-laying||Six days of Creation|
|7 Swans-a-swimming||Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit|
|8 Maids-a-milking||Beatitudes (Matthew's version)|
|9 Ladies dancing||Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit|
|10 Lords-a-leaping||Ten Commandments|
|11 Pipers piping||Eleven faithful apostles.|
|12 Drummers drumming||Twelve articles in the Apostles' Creed.|
- A delightful treatment of what life would be like with all these odd presents. The text introduction to the recording wrongly identifies it as "The Twelve Days to Christmas. The Twelve Days, of course, either start with Christmas Day or come after Christmas day. Advent is the season that comes before Christmas.
Days of the Catholic Christmas Season
The number of days in the Christmas Season in the United States varies because the Feast of the Epiphany has been moved to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8. When the solemnity of the Epiphany is transferred to the Sunday that occurs on January 7 or 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday; otherwise, it falls on the next Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany.
By my count, that gives us a range of 15 to 20 Days of Christmas.
|Sun = 25||Mon = 25||Tue = 25||Wed = 25||Thu = 25||Fri = 25||Sat = 25|
|Sun||25: day #1|
|Mon||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Tue||27: day #3||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Wed||28: day #4||27: day #3||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Thu||29: day #5||28: day #4||27: day #3||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Fri||30: day #6
|29: day #5||28: day #4||27: day #3||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Sat||31: day #7||30: day #6||29: day #5||28: day #4||27: day #3||26: day #2||25: day #1|
|Sun||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7
|30: day #6
|29: day #5
|28: day #4
|27: day #3
|26: day #2|
|Mon||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7||30: day #6||29: day #5||28: day #4||27: day #3|
|Tue||3: day #10||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7||30: day #6||29: day #5||28: day #4|
|Wed||4: day #11||3: day #10||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7||30: day #6||29: day #5|
|Thu||5: day #12||4: day #11||3: day #10||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7||30: day #6|
|Fri||6: day #13||5: day #12||4: day #11||3: day #10||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos||31: day #7|
|Sat||7: day #14||6: day #13||5: day #12||4: day #11||3: day #10||2: day #9||1: day #8 Theotokos|
|Sun||8: day #15 Epiphany||7: day #14 Epipany||6: day #13 Epiphany||5: day #12 Epiphany||4: day #11 Epiphany||3: day #10 Epiphany||2: day #9 Epiphany|
|Mon||9: day #16 Baptism||8: day #15 Baptism||7: day #14||6: day #13||5: day #12||4: day #11||3: day #10|
|Tue||8: day #15||7: day #14||6: day #13||5: day #12||4: day #11|
|Wed||9: day #16||8: day #15||7: day #14||6: day #13||5: day #12|
|Thu||10: day #17||9: day #16||8: day #15||7: day #14||6: day #13|
|Fri||11: day #18||10: day #17||9: day #16||8: day #15||7: day #14|
|Sat||12: day #19||11: day #18||10: day #17||9: day #16||8: day #15|
|Sun||13: day #20 Baptism||12: day #19 Baptism||11: day #18 Baptism||10: day #17 Baptism||9: day #16 Baptism|
- The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch it is Kerstmis, in Latin Dies Natalis, whence comes the French NoÃ«l, and Italian Il natale; in German Weihnachtsfest, from the preceeding sacred vigil. The term Yule is of disputed origin. It is unconnected with any word meaning "wheel". The name in Anglo-Saxon was geol, feast: geola, the name of a month (cf. Icelandic iol a feast in December).
- Other English words formed the same way:
date name feast 2 Feb Candlemas Presentation (40 days after Christmas) 25 Mar Ladymass or Lady Mass? Annunciation and Incarnation (9 months before Christmas) 3 May Roodmas
"Rood" is an Old English word for "cross."
Finding of the True Cross by St. Helena.
Now celebrated on 14 September as Triumph of the Cross.
29 Sep Michelmas: Michael the Archangel 1 Aug Lammas Loaf-Mass Day — festival of the wheat harvest. 4 Aug Brendanmas A local celebration in the Buffalo, NY, area. Since Brendan is not yet deceased and therefore has not yet been canonized, his feast day has not yet been entered definitively into the Roman calendar. 15 Aug Marymas Assumption 1 Nov Hallowmas All Saints ("Hallows"). 11 Nov Martinmas
Martin of Tours; end of autumn wheat seeding.
Beginning of 40-day fast in preparation for Christmas.
St. Martin's Eve was a festival like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday.
28 Dec Childermas Holy Innocents
"Christmas" is a uniquely English word for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. Other languages refer to the feast differently:
French NoÃ«l Spanish Navidad German Weihnachten Italian Natale Greek Christougena Czech VÃ¡noce Polish Narodzenia Swedish Jul
The Candle Mass (Candelmas)
- Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
- 40th day of Christmas, counting December 25 as day 1, brings us to February 2nd on the Roman calendar.
- There may be a candlelit procession into Church, followed by the blessing of candles. The candles, made of beeswax in olden days, symbolize Christ, the light of the world, entering His Temple in Jerusalem for the first time.
- Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.
- One of Twelve Great Feasts in the Eastern liturgical calendar. Some may celebrate it 40 days after Epiphany.
- Day of Consecrated Life.
Christmas Day is Day 1 and February 2 is Day 40 in this tradition.
25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1 2
The first letter of this ancient abbreviation is not the English character "X" but the Greek character Chi. It is the first letter of "Christos" in Greek: Χριστος. People who use this abbreviation (as I did in the pie chart of the liturgical year) are not "Xing" Christ out of Christmas; they are going back to the original language of the New Testament and to the earliest days of Christianity to find a convenient symbol for Christ.
This is an example of the problems associated with transliteration.
Many Nativity Dates in the Early Church
- Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods.
- The article goes on to describe the multitude of dates used by the early Church in various places to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It seems clear from the bewildering variety of seasons, dates, and explanations that there was no strong apostolic tradition about when to celebrate the Nativity.
Roman solar connection
- It seems that the birth of Jesus was not celebrated as a separate feast until the 4th century or so. The East has preserved an earlier tradition linking the birthday of Jesus with the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany, January 6 — see Epiphany).
- Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Roman feast of Sol Invictus, "The Unconquerable Sun." The pun on "Sun/Son" does not exist in Latin, where the two words are "filius" and "sol."
- March 25 -->December 25.
- " December 25 was the date of the winter solstice in ancient times (before subsequent drift due to chronological errors in the Julian calendar eventually left the solstice on its present date of December 21.) As such, many pagan winter holidays occurred on this date, which marks the shortest day of the year and the point where the days become longer again. Many customs from these holidays, particularly from the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic celebration of Yule in northern Europe, are transparently present in later Christmas customs, suggesting that the date was appropriated directly from pagan customs and given a Christian veneer rather than being the true birthday of Jesus."
- "Dec 25: The Biblical Argument of the Birth of Christ in Late December (Answering Common Objections):
- Date of Saturnalia: December 17 to 23
- Saturnalia commemorated the winter solstice. Yet the winter solstice falls on December 22! It is true that Saturnalia celebrations began as early as December 17 and extended till December 23. Still, the dates don't match up.
- The Emperor Aurelian introduced the cult of the Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") to Rome in AD 274. Aurelian found political traction with this cult, because his own name "Aurelian" derives from the Latin word aurora denoting "sunrise." Coins reveal that Emperor Aurelian called himself the Pontifex Solis or "Pontiff of the Son." Thus, Aurelian simply accommodated a generic solar cult and identified his name with it at the end of the third century.
- Sol Invictus: a late celebration
- Most importantly, there is no historical record for a celebration Sol Invictus on December 25 prior to AD 354. [MXM: The fact that there is no record prior to AD 354 does not mean that 354 AD is the time when Sol Invictus was invented.] Even in AD 354, the date is simply designated as "Invictus" without mention of a birthday. The date only explicitly became the "Birthday of the Unconquered Son" under (drumroll please) the Emperor Julian the Apostate who had been a Christian but who had apostatized and returned to Roman paganism. History reveals that it was a former Christian Emperor (who hated Christ) that erected a pagan holiday on December 25.
- [MXM: Julian's action shows that celebrating the Nativity on December 25 had become an established practice in Rome in Rome by the time of the reign of Julian the Apostate, (331/332-363 AD). This is good, if indirect, evidence of when December 25 became established as the date to celebrate the Nativity in the West.]
- Reasoning from the birth of John the Baptist (end of June)
- Saint Luke reports that Zacharias served in the “course of Abias” (Lk 1:5) which Scripture records as the eighth course among the twenty-four priestly courses (see Neh 12:17). Each course served one week in the temple for two times each year. The course of Abias served during the tenth week and the thirty-fourth week after the Passover.*
- The thirty-fourth week after Passover would place Zacharias at the temple during the Day of Atonement (dated to the end of September). This entails that Saint John the Baptist would have been conceived toward the end of September, placing John's birth at the end of June, confirming the Catholic Church's celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24.
- We read that just after the Immaculate Virgin Mary conceived Christ, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. This means that John the Baptist was six months older that our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 1:24-27, 36). Add six months to June 24 and it reveals December 24-25 as the birthday of Christ. Subtract nine months from December 25 and it reveals that the annunciation was March 25. All the dates match up perfectly.
Coincidence with Date of Creation
- Earlier, Ratzinger shows that the African ecclesiastical author Tertullian (c. 150 - c. 207) discussed a well-known tradition that Christ suffered death on March 25, a day that was cosmically associated with the creation of the world. March 25 was taken as the spring equinox (which we now know to be off by a few days), and hence the date after which light definitively conquers darkness. March 25 would be fully appropriate for not only the day of Creation, but also the day of the New Creation (the Incarnation or Annunciation) as well as Christ's Passion. It is by this historical development, and not that of the Mithras myth, that “the feast of Christ's birth on December 25 - nine months after March 25 - developed in the West in the course of the third century” (Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 107).
- Finally, the Cardinal discusses another important cosmic event, the summer solstice. “Between the two dates of March 25 and December 25 comes the feast of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist, on June 24, at the time of the summer solstice. The link between the dates can now be seen as a liturgical and cosmic expression of the Baptist's words: ‘He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease' (Jn 3:30). The birthday of St. John the Baptist takes place on the date when the days begin to shorten, just as the birthday of Christ takes place when they begin to lengthen” (Ratzinger, 109).
- Note the unavoidable bias in favor of the Northern Hemisphere. At the time when the coincidence between the birth of John the Baptist with the summer solstice and the coincidence between the birth of Jesus at the winter solstice was noted, the authors were (apparently) unaware that these solstices are opposite in effect in the Southern Hemisphere. For the South, the birth of John the Baptist takes place at their winter solstice and the birth of Jesus takes place at their summer solstice. This, I suppose, is all part of the scandal of the Incarnation: God the Son takes on a complete and perfect human nature in a particular place and time in history, not everywhere all at once. The traditional meditations on the cosmic significance of the time of His Incarnation and birth have to be done from the standpoint of His location; others who experience the cosmos differently must make allowances for the differences introduced in their experience by the difference in their location in time and space.
Eastern vs. Western calendars
- "The Revised Julian calendar or, less formally, New Calendar, is a calendar, originated in 1923, which effectively discontinued the 340 years of divergence between the naming of dates sanctioned by those Eastern Orthodox churches adopting it and the Gregorian calendar that has come to predominate worldwide. In 2800 the two calendars will diverge again, though more slowly than the Julian and Gregorian do. This calendar replaced the Ecclesiastical Calendar based on the Julian Calendar in use by the Eastern Orthodox Church since the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The Revised Julian Calendar aligned its dates with the Gregorian Calendar proclaimed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII for adoption by the Roman Catholic Church."
"Because of the differences in calendars in use at that time, the Eastern Church celebrated the Incarnation on what is January 6 on our western calendars (although on their calendars this corresponded to December 24), also as an alternative to pagan solstice festivals. Today, most of the Eastern churches (with the exception of Russian Orthodox) follow the Western practice of celebrating Christmas on December 25. However the Western churches also adopted the January 6 date and used it to observe what is now called Epiphany. In effect, the Eastern churches adopted December 25th from the West and the western churches adopted January 6 from the East, and now both are observed in both traditions, although with different emphases."
"Eastern Orthodox national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem mark feasts using the older Julian Calendar. December 25 on that calendar currently corresponds to January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar. However, other Orthodox Christians, such as the churches of Greece, Antioch, Alexandria, Albania, Finland and the Orthodox Church in America, among others, began using the Revised Julian Calendar in the early 20th century, which corresponds exactly to the Gregorian Calendar. These Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on the same day as Western Christianity. Oriental Orthodox churches also use their own calendars, which are generally similar to the Julian calendar. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the nativity in combination with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Armenian churches customarily use the Gregorian calendar, but some use the Julian calendar and thus celebrate Christmas Day on January 19, and Christmas Eve on January 18 (according to the Gregorian calendar)."
"The term Old Calendarist refers to any Orthodox Christian or any Orthodox Church body which uses the historic Julian calendar (called "Old Style Calendar" or "Church calendar" or "Old Calendar"), and whose Church body is not in communion with the Orthodox Churches that use the New Calendar. The "Old Calendarists" (who are also sometimes styled "Old Calendar") are to be distinguished from Orthodox Christians or Orthodox Church bodies which are on the Old Calendar. The latter use the historic Julian calendar cited above, but are in communion with the Orthodox Churches that use the New Calendar (the Revised Julian calendar). Thus, to be "Old Calendarist" or "Old Calendar" is not the same thing as being "on the Old Calendar"; and the Russian Orthodox Church, for instance, is not Old Calendarist (or Old Calendar), but it is on the Old Calendar. There are a great many Orthodox Christians who are (or who belong to Churches that are) on the Old Calendar, but far fewer in number are the Orthodox Christians who are Old Calendar or Old Calendarist."
"Eastern Orthodox Liturgics" (Wikipedia) says that three feasts are celebrated on December 25:
- The Nativity, according to the Flesh, of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
- The Adoration of the Magi: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar.
- Commemoration of the shepherds in Bethlehem who were watching their flocks and came to see the Lord.
For Old Calendarists, that works out to a Gregorian date of January 7.
- As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar - which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new' Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.
In tabular form
|In this table, I attempt to sort out the data given above. I am not a calendrist and would be happy to revise this as needed to make it more accurate. The purpose of this table is to attempt show on what GREGORIAN date the Orthodox churches celebrate these feasts. All dates here are expressed in GREGORIAN terms.|
|Feast||Gregorian||Julian||Revised Julian Calendar|
|Nativity of Our Lord||December 25||January 7||December 25|
|Epiphany — Visit of the Magi||January 6||(Combined with Nativity)||(Combined with Nativity)|
|Theophany — Baptism of the Lord||January 6||January 19||January 6|
The development of different liturgical and calendric traditions seems to me to stem, in part, from the difficulties of communication in the early Church. Local customs took root without being compared to or coordinated with other regional customs and traditions.
The Christmas tradition is rooted in the conviction that Jesus was a true human being and therefore that He was born on a particular date, as we all are. The ancient world did not share our mania for exact dates, times, and places. The early Christian bodies wanted to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, but did not have any reliable historical information about what it was. The choice of the winter solstice (December 24 or December 25 on the Julian calendar) was arbitrary but not meaningless. Once the date for celebrating the birth of Jesus was fixed, it was natural to count back nine months to the day and assign March 25 as the date of His conception ("The Feast of the Annunciation" in the Western tradition).
Picking a date to honor the Baptism of the Lord is equally arbitrary, but not meaningless. It is the first revelation of the mystery of the Trinity and the first act in Jesus' public ministry in the synoptic gospels. In the Western tradition, the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time, when we meditate on everything Jesus said and did before entering into His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
The feasts are meaningful because they are part of the reality of Jesus' incarnate life and are hugely important for understanding Who He is and what He did for us in becoming human and beginning the formation of His first disciples. The arbitrariness of the dates cannot be overcome, but they provide a beautiful rhythm for the Liturgical year.
The solstice is a natural event noted by all the great civilizations in history. In the Northern hemisphere, it is the time of deepest natural darkness and is a turning-point toward spring. I'm very grateful to the unknown religious geniuses who worked out these liturgical dates on our behalf.
The difference in the calendars does not trouble me and I trust that it does not trouble God, either. Calendars are "the work of human hands." Variations in them are perfectly intelligible in principle. Although Christians may be separated by the calendars they use, we share a common instinct to mark these holy days in our hearts and minds and to use them to give greater glory to God.
- December 6: Feast of St. Nicholas, who gave generously to the poor, especially to some young women in need of a dowry.
- December 25
- January 6: Epiphany in the West, imitating the magi of Matthew's gospel. In the East, this seems to have been the original date for celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Banned in England
The celebration of Christmas was banned by the Puritans in England 1647: "The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", and carol singing. ... In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas, and celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681."
The objection to Christmas celebrations was that they were all extra-Biblical traditions.
Once the monarchy was restored in 1660, Christmas made an official comeback in England.
Christmas and Easter are traditional feasts when lapsed Catholics make a guest appearance at Mass. We hope and pray that they will "come to Church for a change" (quoted from a photo of a signboard on a Protestant church).
Secular Christmas vs. the Christmas Season
- Secular Christmas
- From Halloween until Christmas Day, ""it's Christmas time in the city."
- Stars Santa Claus, elves, angels, and "magic" that are disconnected from theological roots.
- Conditions us to give and receive gifts, to wish each other well, and to socialize with friends and family. This is not all bad, nor are any of these customs intrinsically evil.
- Secular decorations and "holiday" music.
- A single day is not enough; Christmas time keeps the celebration going.
- From Christmas to the Epiphany at least; for Catholics, from Christmas to the Baptism of the Lord.
- The star is Jesus, the newborn King, surrounded by angels and saints in their full theological character.
- A great time for mystagogy: meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation as God's astonishing, unexpected, and undeserved answer to sin.
The reason for the season
The "reason for the season" is sin and suffering.
When we feel all cranky and frustrated and discouraged, we know we are fully qualified for the visit of the Christ child. He came for the sick and for sinners, not for the healthy and self-righteous.
Hating those who make their living in retail is not a good way to prepare for the coming of the Savior. If we really love Jesus, we must really love our enemies. That includes retailers!
They're talking our language
- "Xmas" is the classical abbreviation for "Christmas." The X is a Greek chi and stands for "Xristos."
- "-mas" means "Mass."
- - Therefore, "Xmas" means "Christ's Mass" — for those who have eyes to see!
- "Holiday" is derived from "holy day."
- "Season's Greetings" is shorthand for "I wish you all of the greetings proper to this season." While it is open to many different seasons and festivities (Hannakuh, Ramadan, when it is in December or January, Kwanzaa, New Year's), at the very least it must contain the sense of "Merry Christmas" along with all the others.
"'Tis the season to be moody?"
- Green: spring is coming; "ever-greens" represent Jesus' resurrection from the dead in the springtime and His victory over all evil.
- Red: the color of holly berries; apples on a "Paradise Tree" in morality plays remind us of the fall of Adam and the need for a Savior; the color of the episcopal robes of Saint Nicholas; the blood Jesus shed on the Cross to save the world from sin; a joyful season.
- White: the purity of Christ; gift of the Eucharist.
- Gold: gift of the magi; divinity of Jesus.
- Silver: Star of Bethlehem; Redemption in Christ (Jesus sold for silver pieces?).
"The traditional colours of Christmas are pine green (evergreen), snow white, and heart red. Blue and white are often used to represent winter, or sometimes Hanukkah, which occurs around the same time. Gold and silver are also very common, as are just about any other metallic colour."
- [Early Christian calendars mark Christmas Eve as templa exornatur, meaning “churches are decked,” though supposedly Saturnalia celebrators didn't allow some Christians to hang boughs in honor of Christmas. Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid, Celtic and Roman traditions, and its symbolism changed to reflect Christian beliefs.
- Today, Christians consider holly symbolic of Jesus Christ in two ways. The red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross on the day he was crucified. Legend states that holly berries were originally white, but that the blood Christ shed for the sins of humankind stained the berries forever red. A holly's pointed leaves symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head before he died on the cross.
- Holly is known as christdorn in German, meaning "Christ thorn." Both of these symbols are meant to serve as a reminder to Christians of Jesus' suffering, but they aren't the only stories tying holly to Jesus. One claims that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was constructed of holly. Another says that holly sprang up from his footsteps. Less common symbolism includes the holly's white blossoms representing purity, and the idea that if the holly used to decorate a home for Christmas is prickly, the man will rule the house for the coming year; but if the holly used is smooth, the woman will rule.
- Holly berries ... ripen in early winter.
- The Paradise Play, which was presented on December 24th, related the story of Adam and Eve, and their plight in the Garden of Eden. Of course, props were needed and, since there was no way to provide an apple tree in the middle of winter, it was decided that a pine tree with apples tied to its branches would have to serve as the Tree of Good and Evil, in the center of the garden.
- Since this idea worked so well, it became a popular prop for local churches, and the idea spread, until this version of the Tree of Good and Evil was the commonly accepted prop whenever the play was performed. Soon, churches everywhere had adopted this tradition and included it in their celebration each year.
- The Paradise Tree was so popular in Germany, that private citizens began to erect pine trees in their homes during the holiday, decorating them with red apples, as the church folks had done for their Miracle Play. Before long, the tradition was so widespread, that the modern-day Christmas tree tradition was born, and the official colors of the Christmas season became green and red - green for the pine tree and red for the apples - the combination of which represented the Paradise Tree, which made its debut in the 14th century.
- Eventually, the Paradise Tree was also decorated with small white wafers - symbolizing the Holy Eucharist - to remind people that, while Adam and Eve were responsible for the fall of mankind, the birth of the Christ Child would - in effect - reverse the final result of the fall through the eventual suffering and death of Jesus.