Across Europe, Roman, German or Celtic festivals marked the beginning of winter. Christianity originated and expanded in the ancient world by promising a new life, and by announcing a new light to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Little by little, a calendar of religious festivals was established from the IVth century, replacing ancient rituals and pagan celebrations.

Christmas is the festival of the Nativity and commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian liturgy the night of December 24 to 25. Contemporary France and Canada have not forgotten past traditions and still keep the practices and beliefs associated with the Christmas festival alive.

As for the meaning of the word Noël, it could have three origins:

a Judaic origin;
a religious Latin origin, linked to Dies natalis (the birthday of Christ);
more controversially, a Celtic origin derived from the Gaulish word novo (new) and hel (sun) corresponding to the winter solstice.
Across Europe, Roman, German or Celtic festivals marked the beginning of winter. Christianity originated and expanded in the ancient world by promising a new life, and by announcing a new light to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Little by little, a calendar of religious festivals was established from the IVth century, replacing ancient rituals and pagan celebrations.

Christmas is the festival of the Nativity and commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian liturgy the night of December 24 to 25. Contemporary France and Canada have not forgotten past traditions and still keep the practices and beliefs associated with the Christmas festival alive.

As for the meaning of the word Noël, it could have three origins:

a Judaic origin;
a religious Latin origin, linked to Dies natalis (the birthday of Christ);
more controversially, a Celtic origin derived from the Gaulish word novo (new) and hel (sun) corresponding to the winter solstice.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

While Christian tradition builds on deep impulses in the human imagination and memory, its tap root is in the Jewish faith and tradition. For devout Christian, Christmas remains, above all, the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. The word "messiah" comes from Hebrew and means "anointed one". in Hebrew Bible it refers to the King of Israel. In the books of Samuel (1sm 12: 3-5, 24 : 7-11; 2 sm 19: 21-22), Chronicles (2 chr. 6: 42) and the Psalms (2:2, 18:50, 20:6, 28:8 for example) we read the title "messiah" for the ancients kings Saul, David, Solomon and for the kingship in general.

In the prophetic literature of the ancient Jewish faith an ideal future king is presented as part of the longing of the people for a saviour. This image of the saviour is at the heart of the royal ideologies of the ancient East. Whether in Egypt or Syria, Mesopotamia or ancient Israel, every new king played the role of the saviour. The advent of his reign was grounded in hope. He would bring fertility, wealth, freedom, peace, and happiness to all who dwelt in the land.

Two separate expectations for the messiah characterized the hope of ancient Read More
While Christian tradition builds on deep impulses in the human imagination and memory, its tap root is in the Jewish faith and tradition. For devout Christian, Christmas remains, above all, the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. The word "messiah" comes from Hebrew and means "anointed one". in Hebrew Bible it refers to the King of Israel. In the books of Samuel (1sm 12: 3-5, 24 : 7-11; 2 sm 19: 21-22), Chronicles (2 chr. 6: 42) and the Psalms (2:2, 18:50, 20:6, 28:8 for example) we read the title "messiah" for the ancients kings Saul, David, Solomon and for the kingship in general.

In the prophetic literature of the ancient Jewish faith an ideal future king is presented as part of the longing of the people for a saviour. This image of the saviour is at the heart of the royal ideologies of the ancient East. Whether in Egypt or Syria, Mesopotamia or ancient Israel, every new king played the role of the saviour. The advent of his reign was grounded in hope. He would bring fertility, wealth, freedom, peace, and happiness to all who dwelt in the land.

Two separate expectations for the messiah characterized the hope of ancient Israel in the period leading up to the birth of Jesus. One stream of thought anticipated a national messiah, a descendant of King David, who would liberate the Jewish people from foreign rule and establish a universal kingdom of peace. The other stream of thought anticipated a priestly messiah. He will bring peace to his people and the world through knowledge of God. The community at Qumran from which we get the Dead Sea Scrolls had this hope and image of the messiah.

The concept of the "messiah" was part of the Jewish faith’s religious landscape at the time of the birth of Jesus. For the early Christian communities the anticipation of the messiah, who would teach knowledge of God and bring peace to the world, became the center of faith.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

As the Christian religion was establishing itself in the first centuries A.D., Christmas as such did not exist: the Church knew only the festival of the Resurrection which was solemnly celebrated at Easter. The first celebrations of the birth of Jesus "Natale Christi" appeared during the IVth century in the West when Christianity became the majority religion. The objectives were to Christianize the festivals of popular culture and pre-Christian cults which were celebrated during the month of December. In particular, Jesus as "Light of the World" or "Sun of Justice" was a substitute for the Mithraic Sol Invictus. The liturgy or the interpretation of the scriptures would influence and determine how the scenes of the life of Christ would be represented and particularly that of the Nativity.

In 354, Pope Liberus instituted the Nativity on December 25 while the Eastern Church celebrated the birth and baptism of Christ on January 6 on the feast of Epiphany.

The choice of the date of December 25 was based ultimately on the desire of the Church Fathers to turn t Read More

As the Christian religion was establishing itself in the first centuries A.D., Christmas as such did not exist: the Church knew only the festival of the Resurrection which was solemnly celebrated at Easter. The first celebrations of the birth of Jesus "Natale Christi" appeared during the IVth century in the West when Christianity became the majority religion. The objectives were to Christianize the festivals of popular culture and pre-Christian cults which were celebrated during the month of December. In particular, Jesus as "Light of the World" or "Sun of Justice" was a substitute for the Mithraic Sol Invictus. The liturgy or the interpretation of the scriptures would influence and determine how the scenes of the life of Christ would be represented and particularly that of the Nativity.

In 354, Pope Liberus instituted the Nativity on December 25 while the Eastern Church celebrated the birth and baptism of Christ on January 6 on the feast of Epiphany.

The choice of the date of December 25 was based ultimately on the desire of the Church Fathers to turn the people of the Roman Empire away from idolatry. From the Vth century, the festival of the Nativity took on such importance in the Christian world that it signalled the beginning of the liturgical year. This continued up until the XIth century when the period of Advent was added to the Christmas cycle and the first Sunday in Advent from then on became the start of the new liturgical year.


© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Christmas lasts for almost a month, and festivities can begin on Saint Martin’s day, November 11, and end on January 6 with Epiphany. Advent (which comes from the Latin Adventus, the coming or the arrival) lasts four weeks, during which time religious rituals prepare for the celebration of Christmas.

In the past this was a period of fasting when no meat, cheese or alcoholic drinks could be consumed. During this time, the Christmas meal was prepared by butchering a pig, making pastries, and the house was cleaned and decorated. Today, children can open the boxes on their Advent calendars to count the days until Christmas.
Christmas lasts for almost a month, and festivities can begin on Saint Martin’s day, November 11, and end on January 6 with Epiphany. Advent (which comes from the Latin Adventus, the coming or the arrival) lasts four weeks, during which time religious rituals prepare for the celebration of Christmas.

In the past this was a period of fasting when no meat, cheese or alcoholic drinks could be consumed. During this time, the Christmas meal was prepared by butchering a pig, making pastries, and the house was cleaned and decorated. Today, children can open the boxes on their Advent calendars to count the days until Christmas.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Christmas trees decorated with candles and cherubs bearing gifts

Christmas trees decorated with candles and cherubs bearing gifts. There are twenty-four compartments which are opened, one by one, every day until Christmas.

Musée national des arts et traditions populaires. MNATP
20th Century
Coloured and frosted cardboard
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • identify how people, events, and ideas of the past shape the present;
  • describe the development of the Christian Christmas religious celebration.

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