In English, Christmas obviously is a contraction of Christ’s Mass. Early Christians most probably chose the time around the 25th of December because it was approximately 9 months after the date they believed the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary to announce Jesus’ arrival.
Coincidentally, the date fell during the time of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations dedicated the the God Saturn called Saturnalia. Along with huge feasts, Romans also gave each other gifts .(sound familiar?) And as the Empire became increasingly Christian, Saturnalia turned into the feast of the birth of Christ.
As the Western world became more and more Christian and more and more peoples converted, Christmas celebrations were adapted from pagan rituals, winter festivals celebrating the return of the sun morphed into days dedicated to the Christ child.
There are few places in the world where Christmas is celebrated as well as in Northern Europe. Our traditions of the Christmas tree and the wreath come from Northern Europe. Also Santa Claus or Sinter Klaas (from Dutch) come also from these regions.
As tribes of Goths, Teutons, Franks and Frisians were converted to Christianity, their lively and boisterous Solstice celebrations began to celebrate Christmas. Jul, or geol (pronounced yool) was the name Scandinavians gave to the winter time. And still today they wish each other, God Jul (got yool) or Merry Christmas. The Yule log traditions come from them as well. A huge log or even a whole tree that would burn for a week of the celebration representing the light from the sun.
In Spain and Italy, the words for Christmas refer to birth. La Navidad in Spanish and Natale (Nat Ah lay) in Italian. In French, Noël is also related to the word for birth in Latin, natalis, and its latter form nael. In German, Weihnachten means ‘holy night’.
In southern Europe, the nativity scene is the main Christmas ornament and is a tradition attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. He is credited with creating the first Christmas scenes first with live humans and then with small, carved figurines.
Time to go a-waisaling! Merry Christmas everyone!
PS. Waissail is from Anglo-Saxon, wæs hæl, and means ‘be healthy”