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About This QuizAccording to popular song, Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year." Christmas serves as a holy day for those who celebrate the holiday and a marketing boon for retail companies. But what's behind the ornaments, trees, presents and fruitcakes that characterize the 25th of December? And where did that date originate?
What year did the U.S. government declare Christmas a federal holiday?
The secular nature of Christmas was officially acknowledged in 1870, when the U.S. Congress made it a federal holiday.
Why did early Europeans celebrate the winter solstice?
to welcome the lengthening of daylight hours
Early Europeans marked the year's longest night -- the winter solstice -- as the beginning of longer days and the rebirth of the sun. They slaughtered livestock that couldn't be kept through the winter and feasted from late December through January.
to celebrate the birth of Christ
to mark the end of the harvest season
Which is not a winter festival celebrated by ancient Romans?
In Rome, people celebrated the raucous festival of Saturnalia from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24 in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Two other Roman festivals, Juvenalia, a feast in honor of Rome's children, and Mithras, a celebration in honor of the infant god Mithra, also fell around the solstice.
Why did the early church appoint Dec. 25 as the date for Christmas?
to rival pagan winter solstice celebrations
By the fourth century, the church decided that Christians needed a December holiday to rival solstice celebrations. Church leaders selected Dec. 25 for the Feast of the Nativity.
to honor the date of Christ's birth
to have another holiday like Easter
Why did early Christmas carolers go singing door to door?
for good cheer
Early Christmas' proximity to Saturnalia resulted in the holiday absorbing some of the Roman festival's excesses. Christmas in the Middle Ages featured feasting, drinking, riotous behavior and caroling for money.
What British ruler canceled Christmas upon assuming power?
Religious puritans disapproved of such excess in the name of Christ and considered the holiday blasphemous. Oliver Cromwell went so far as to cancel Christmas when he seized control of England in 1645.
When did stores begin advertising for Christmas shopping?
Stores began placing Christmas-themed ads in newspapers in 1820. By 1867, Macy's department store in New York City stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve, allowing last-minute shoppers to make their purchases.
What is Boxing Day?
Boxing Day is a holiday for taking down Christmas decorations.
Boxing Day is a holiday meant for people to travel back home from family gatherings.
Boxing Day is a holiday intended to give servants, who had to work through Christmas, a break.
Boxing Day, on Dec. 26, began as a holiday for servants and other working people who had to serve through Christmas. As a reward, they were relieved of their duties the following day and given gifts by their employers.
Where did the tradition of outdoor lights during Christmastime originate?
Outdoor lights started with the early church as a symbol of the Magi's star.
Saint Francis of Assisi lit an outdoor nativity scene to spread the Christian faith.
Saint Francis of Assisi started this custom in 1223, believing a life-size staging of the crèche would make Jesus' story clear and accessible.
Beginning in the 17th century, people would light up the outside of their homes to guide traveling families.
What's one reason that Jesus' given birth date of Dec. 25 may be accurate?
A rival religion also set the date of their deity's birth on Dec. 25.
Hebrew translation of the Bible says that Jesus' birth happened near the winter solstice.
Biblical chronographers believed Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months before Christmas.
Chronographers reckoned that the world was created on the spring equinox and four days later, on March 25th, light was created. Since the existence of Jesus signaled the beginning of a new era, or new creation, the biblical chronographers assumed Jesus' conception would have also fallen on March 25th placing his birth in December, nine months later.