SATURDAY, DECEMBER 25: Gather ‘round the tree, feast with family and enjoy a day of merriment—this is Christmas! For 2 billion Christians around the world, December 25 is a time to rejoice in Jesus’ birth, although countless non-Christians celebrate aspects of this joyful holiday, too. (For example, here’s a story we published about the popularity of Santa in some Muslim communities.)
On Christmas Eve especially, churches around the world will repeat the traditional story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem in a humble shelter among animals. Beyond the greeting-card images, though, this is an ancient story of incarnation—God becoming human—and lies at the core of Christianity, which we described in another new story this week.
While many churches battle to overcome shrinking attendance throughout the year, Christmas is one major exception. Christmas Eve packs churches! Half of Americans head to worship services at Christmas, according to annual polls. Megachurches, in particular, see enormous crowds this time of year—one church in Illinois expects a total of 82,000 attendees during its week of Christmas services. (Details are in The Christian Post.) Fellowship Church, a megachurch in Dallas, is pulling out all the stops this year to attract visitors: Pastor Ed Young is offering 21 services, several in 3-D, and promising a Christmas experience like attendees “have never seen.” (Special 3-D effects are popular even in secular settings like the big Radio City Rockettes Christmas show, where Santa “flies” through the theater “over the heads” of families wearing 3-D glasses.)
Most houses of worship celebrate in a traditional manner with prayers, gospel readings, carols and candlelight. On Christmas Eve, Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain a long vigil, devoting hours to centuries-old liturgies that await and celebrate the coming Nativity. (Learn more at the site for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Additional services celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day, and the Nativity season actually lasts until Dec. 31. (More details are at the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese site.)
Even non-Christians get into the spirit of the merry Christmas season—in fact, Christmas Day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. Even the majority of atheists tell pollsters they mark Christmas in some way.
Often, the holiday is associated with foods. Are you searching for a perfect Christmas recipe? Check out AllRecipe’s selection of more than 3,000! If your kids are looking for holiday jokes, coloring pages, quizzes and more, try Kaboose. If you’re a history buff, check out some neat facts at History.com. Many people visit family members and friends and, according to AAA, holiday air travel is up 2.8 percent this year—meaning that Americans are eager to see their loved ones and exchange gifts, despite airport scanners and a lagging economy.
If you’re wondering where devout Christians can go for an intense Nativity experience, look no further than the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, a place where relics of Christ’s crib are reportedly held. (Sacred Destinations has photos of the basilica and more.) The basilica’s chapel contains part of the Holy Crib that was carried to Rome by Christian refugees during conflict in the Holy Land in the 7th century. A procession of the Holy Crib is held at this basilica each year on Christmas Day.