The original celebration of Christmas is realized with special church services to give thanks for the birth of Christ. The story of the Nativity, or the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, are particularly important in religious celebrations of Christmas. However, many traditions that are around today have their roots in winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and tree, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was held. This was a relaxing time with a lot of parties and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar. In Scandinavia, a festival called Yule and lasting up to twelve days was held in late December and early January. In this time people burnt logs and held parties. These customs have influences how Christmas Day is celebrated today in the United States.
The Bible does not give a precise date for the birth of Jesus. It is also unclear when December 25 became associated with the birth of Jesus, although it may have been around two hundred years after his birth. In the early centuries of Christianity, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus was not a cause for celebrations. The idea of turning this day into a celebration started in the early Middle Ages in Europe.
During Reformation and up until the middle of the 1800s, Christmas was often not celebrated because partying and merry making was seen as unchristian. From about 1840, celebrating Christmas became more widespread. December 25 was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Since then Christmas Day has become a steadily more important holiday.