Widespread myths pervade the story of Christmas. The holiday as we know it is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. As many are beginning to learn, we cannot place the birth date of Jesus, but we do not believe that it was in December. Historians can't even agree on a definitive year. In addition, the matter seemed to be of little importance to the earliest gospel, which seemed to reference his baptism much more often.
How did we come to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, then? Many note that a Roman period occurring from December 17th through 25th called Saturnalia was a celebratory period of lawlessness, at the conclusion of which an innocent citizen representing evil was chosen by the community to be slaughtered. Because the courts were closed and laws were essentially ignored during Saturnalia, it wasn't surprising that widespread misconduct of the lowest level was common. Christian leaders who wanted to recruit the innumerable Pagan followers adopted Saturnalia as their own holiday in order to do this, suggesting that the last day, December 25th, was Jesus' birthday. It wasn't a stretch of the imagination, as the day already represented sacrifice in order to cleanse man of its darkness.
Although Saturnalia as a Christian holiday was largely a failed concept, its historic beginnings were still seen at later periods of time, such as in 1466, when the current pope decided to readopt a few loosely-related rituals in order to appease and entertain Roman subjects. Even more modern customs, such as the Christmas tree, the Mistletoe, and even the tradition of exchanging Christmas presents, were all adopted by the Christians from other religions, cults, and organizations.
Now, the day is celebrated by the masses as not only the birthday of Jesus Christ, but also as a time of traditional selflessness, caring, thankfulness, and family importance. Luckily, human sacrifice is no longer celebrated. Instead, we find many families at home using Crock Pots to heat up the year's last fresh apple cider or cook the perfect ham.
Christmastime is perhaps most noticeable outdoors, where festive lights and seasonal lawn ornaments are displayed for all to see. It isn't unusual to find groups of people walking from house to house in some neighborhoods, simply to admire what others have done in the spirit of Christmas. Many find a sense of joy during the holidays, especially during family gatherings or town celebrations, during which many sit underneath warm blankets, listen to Christmas carols, or sip hot coffee.
It's amazing to see how far the holiday has come, and how the celebrations have transformed as each religion or group has left its own mark on Christian belief. Of course, Christmas is now celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, and becoming more popular all the time. It's easy to see why.