The word Christmas comes from the Old English term Cristes maesse, meaning "Christ's mass." This was the name for the festival service of worship held on December 25th to commemorate the birth of Jesus, peace be on him. There is neither certain information on the date of his birth, nor even on the year. One reason for this uncertainty is that the stories of his birth, recorded in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, were written several decades after the event. Those who wrote it gave no specific dates for the events they mentioned.
For several centuries, the Christian Church itself paid little attention to the celebration of Jesus' birth. It ranked after Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany in liturgical importance. The major Christian festival was Easter; the day of Jesus' purported resurrection. Only gradually, as the church developed a calendar to commemorate the major events of the life of Jesus, peace be upon him, did the celebration of his birth become significant.
Because there was no knowledge about the date of his birth, a day had to be selected. The Eastern Orthodox and the Eastern Rite Churches within the Roman Catholic Church chose January 6th. The day was named Epiphany, meaning "appearance" (i.e. the day of Jesus' manifestation). The Western Church, based in Rome, chose December 25th. It is known from a notice in an ancient Roman almanac that Christmas was celebrated on December 25th in Rome as early as 336 AD.
In the latter half of the 4th century, the Eastern and Western Churches adopted each other's festival, thus establishing the modern Christian 12-day celebration from Christmas to Epiphany. In some places, the 12th day is called the Festival of the Three Kings because it is believed that the three wise men, or magi, visited the baby Jesus on that day, bringing him gifts.
Today Christmas is more than a one-day celebration or a 12-day festival. It is part of a lengthy holiday season embracing at least the whole month of December. In the United States, the holiday season begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on January 1st, New Year's Day, a period of about five weeks. Actually, it is also an essential part of the business cycle - definitely the month comprising an important retail period of the year.
Gift giving is one of the oldest customs associated with Christmas: It is actually older than the holiday itself. When the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Satumalia on December 17th. It was a winter feast of merry-making and gift exchanging. Two weeks later, on the Roman New Year - January 1- houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts.
Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews, among other groups. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Tectonic and Scandinavian people of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens on New Year's Day to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. For these northern Europeans, this winter celebration was the happiest time of the year because it signified that the shortest day of the year - somewhere around December 21st - had passed. They knew the days would get longer and brighter. The month during which this festival took place was named YOL, from which the word Yule is derived. In fact, Yule has come to mean Christmas in some countries.
Thus, many Christians do not realize that much of the celebration of Christmas is actually of pagan origin. The Romans celebrated the Feast of the Invincible Sun on December 25th. The early church fathers elected to celebrate the birth of Jesus, peace be upon him, on this date, although there was no particular reason to choose this one. In fact, many Christian scholars contend that Jesus, peace be upon him, was actually born in summer. This is consistent with the Quranic account that follows, because there is a specific mention of ripe dates falling to Mary (may Allah be pleased with Her) in the Quran; Allah says:
وَهُزِّىٓ إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ ٱلنَّخْلَةِ تُسَٰقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَبًا جَنِيًّا
"And shake towards you the trunk of the palm-tree; It will drop upon you fresh ripe dates." [Quran 19: 25]
A common theme to many Christian holidays is their actual pagan origin. It seems that the early church elders elected to keep many of the celebrations already in practice and redefine them in Christian terms, rationalizing them as a celebration of some aspect of their dogma of the life of Jesus, may Allah exalt his mention. Nowadays, few may remember the reasons for the various customs that they practice.
The fundamental issue for Muslims everywhere is whether or not to celebrate Christmas. Their Christian colleagues may stress the secular aspects of the holiday and need to comply with social customs in order to advance in the society. In many businesses in many countries of the world, it is customary to have a big party for all employees at this time. Failure to participate makes oneself an object of ostracism. One needs to climb the social ladder to optimize one's chances for promotion, etc., and it is difficult to resist the pressure to conform!
Unfortunately, many Westerners feel that we Muslims should celebrate Christmas. They cite the examples of many other non-Christians doing so, including many Jews, Hindus, etc. who join the merrymaking. They find it frustrating that many Muslims will not comply and yield to the social pressure. It is regretful that they do not apply the same standard to themselves. They don't expect us to pressure them to celebrate our holidays nor do we, Muslims, put such pressure on them. After all, we must follow the Quranic verse 2:256
لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشْدُ مِنَ ٱلْغَىِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلطَّٰغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسْتَمْسَكَ بِٱلْعُرْوَةِ ٱلْوُثْقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
"There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion…"
What Did Jesus Say About Christmas?
The Christmas Experience
The perfect Christmas tree is bought. Adorned with ornaments and glittering with tinsel, it stands by the window. The stores are crammed with shoppers hunting for presents and the little ones anxiously waiting for Santa.
Busy with Christmas fever, wonder did you ever, did the Bible or Jesus made any injunction on Christmas ever?
Ponder upon the following analysis on Christmas, and the Truth will become clearer and clearer.
Does Christmas have Biblical Evidence?
The word 'Christmas' does not exist in the Bible. The Bible has closed lips on the entire feast of Christmas, with one exception, the decoration of a tree. The Bible itself criticizes the decoration of the (Christmas) trees:
"The customs of the people are worthless, they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel, they adore it with silver and gold, they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter" (Jeremiah 10-3,4).
European Pre-Christian pagans superstitiously believed that the green trees had special protective powers. In fact the use of the Christmas tree began only in the 17th century in Strasbourg, France and from there it spread to Germany, Britain and then to the U.S. "Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity…German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the American colonies in the 17th century. By the 19th century its use was quite widespread". (Compton's Encyclopedia, 1998 Edition)
Was Jesus born on Dec. 25?
Neither the date 25th Dec. nor any other date on Jesus' birth is mentioned in the Bible. It was not until the year 530 C.E. that a monk, Dionysus Exigus, fixed the date of Jesus' birth on Dec. 25th. . "He wrongly dated the birth of Christ according to the Roman system (i.e., 754 years after the founding of Rome) as Dec. 25, 753". (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1998 ed.) This date was chosen in keeping with the holidays already indoctrinated into pagans beliefs.
Roman pagans celebrated Dec. 25th as the birth of their 'god' of light, Mithra.
"In the 2nd century A..D., it (Mithraism) was more general in the Roman Empire than Christianity, to which it bore many similarities" (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995 ed.)
Other pagan 'gods' born on Dec. 25th are: Hercules the son of Zeus (Greeks); Bacchus, 'god' of wine (Romans); Adonis, 'god' of Greeks, and 'god' Freyr of Greek-Roman pagans.
What about Santa Claus?
If aliens descended on earth during the Christmas season, they would undoubtedly believe Christmas as being Santa's birthday. The words 'Santa Claus', appear nowhere in the Bible.
However, Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) was a real person, a bishop, who was born 300 years after Jesus. According to legend, he was extremely kind and set out at night to bring presents to the needy. After his death on 6th of Dec., school boys in Europe began celebrating a feast day each year.
Queen Victoria later changed the celebration date from Dec. 6th to Dec. 24th eve.
Did Jesus or his Companions Celebrate Christmas?
If Jesus meant his followers to celebrate Christmas, he would have practiced it himself and enjoined it on his followers. There is no mention in the entire Bible that any of his followers ever celebrated Jesus' birthday like Christians do today.
"The church did not observe a festival for the celebration of the event of Christmas until the 4th century" (Grolier's Encyclopedia)
Thus we see that neither the Bible nor Jesus and his companions say anything about the celebration of Christmas which currently involves fanfare, commercialization, and extravagant spending, devoid of any spiritual relevance.
(Excerpted from http://www.islamhouse.com/en/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=106)