Jesus was born nearly two thousand years ago, long before accurate records were kept or birth certificates
given. So nobody knows on which day He was born, nor whether He was born in the summer or in the winter.
Christians who lived a few hundred years after Jesus died, wisely chose the twenty-fifth of December to
celebrate His birth, because this date was already a very special day. People did not work, but spent
the day doing many of the things that we do now on Christmas Day.
Long before and long after Jesus was born, the twenty-fifth of December was the shortest day of the year.
That is the day when there is less sunlight than on any other day. On the shortest day, people worshipped
the sun and had special services where they prayed to the sun to come back and give them another summer.
Christians knew that God made the sun and so they decided to worship the 'Son of God' on this day.
A different calendar is now used, and in it the shortest day falls on the twenty-first of December.
birth certificates - Geburtsurkunde
to worship - verehren
The First Thousand Years of Christmas
The sun festivals were, in most places, occasions for generally having a good time. The Christians often
took part in them, for although they did not believe in a sun god, they wanted to take part in the fun and
joy. But these festivals were not always happy occasions, for in some places animals were sacrificed.
In the year 601A.D. Pope Gregory ordered Christians to "no longer offer beasts to devils, but to worship
God by feasting".
As more and more people became Christians, they thought of Jesus as a bringer of happiness, and so they
thought of Him rather than of the sun at festival times. But this change of thinking took place very
In the fourth century, when the Romans adopted Christianity, they celebrated the birth of Christ with
great processions to church on Christmas morning. The first we learn of Christmas in England was in
521A.D., when King Arthur went to York Minster to remember Christ's birthday, after he had won a great
battle against the Saxons.
to sacrifice - opfern
to worship - verehren
to adopt - annehmen
The Second Thousand Years of Christmas
In the Middle Ages, Christmas was a very jolly time. Great feasts were held and the stern lords of the
castles gave up their places to the 'Lords of Misrule', whose job it was to play jokes on people and
keep everybody merry.
When Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England, and there was no king, the Puritan Parliament made
laws so that people would think of Christmas only as a solemn time. Fun and feasting were forbidden,
because the Puritans said that such merrymaking had more to do with pagan sun worship than with Christ's
birthday. They did not believe that people could worship God by having a 'good time'. To be fair to the
Puritans, we must remember that people often behaved so badly at Christmas that they used the festival as
an excuse to be hooligans.
You can imagine how much people hated the stern Puritan Christmas, and how great was the rejoicing when
Charles II became king and allowed the old traditions again. The Scots disapproved of Charles II and
kept to the Puritan ways. This is why Christmas in Scotland is not the festival that it is in England.
misrule - Unordnung, Chaos
pagan - heidnisch
Puritans - religious sect
rejoicing - Freude
disapprove - mißbilligen
Today, most of us look forward to two types of play at Christmas time - a serious Nativity Play, and a
lighthearted pantomime or circus. These two types of entertainment show us how our Christmas is both
serious and gay.
Throughout history, watching plays has always been popular at holiday or festival times. Before people
could read, watching plays was one of the few ways of learning.
The people of the Middle Ages looked forward to watching plays made up from Bible stories. At first, these
Miracle Plays, as they are called, were written by the priests and acted by their congregations. The
Nativity stories in these early plays are very similar to the plays that are performed in most schools
today before the Christmas holidays.
Later in the Middle Ages these Bible plays were performed by ordinary people in the town market
places. These plays were acted on "pageants", which were large carts that could be drawn by horses
from one place to another. As these plays were no longer played in church, they included amusing
scenes which would have not been suitable in church.
Nativity Play - Krippenspiel
congregation - Gemeinde
to perform - aufführen
pageants - Festumzug