Skip to content


Authored by British Online Archives
Published on 22nd December, 2022 2 min read


A picture of a decorated Christmas tree and wrapped presents.

Following the four-week season of preparation known as “Advent”, Christmas Day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem (in what is now Palestine). Most Christians consider Jesus to have been the “Messiah”, or son of God. For this reason, Christmas constitutes a particularly important occasion for Christians, and observers often attend worship at church on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, or both, to mark the event. 

However, whilst Christmas is usually regarded as a Christian festival, many believe that the holiday has roots in other traditions, too. For example, in Ancient Rome, the midwinter festival of “Saturnalia” included gift-giving, wreathes, and candles, all of which continue to feature in Christmas celebrations today. Similarly, the Germanic midwinter festival known as “Yule” – which is still widely observed – featured exchanges of gifts, feasting, and burning yule logs (a popular Christmas dessert is, of course, a chocolate roulade in the shape of a log). At the same time, “caroling” (going from house to house singing Christmas carols) is highly reminiscent of “wassailing”, another pagan tradition, which involved carrying a “wassail” (a hot brew of cider or ale) to people’s homes and singing folk songs in exchange for food or money. Moreover, many scholars suggest that “Father Christmas” – also known as “Santa Claus” or “Saint Nicholas” – has roots in pagan folklore, too, though there are many different theories regarding his origins. In other words, Christmas has a fascinating and diverse history and, for Christians and non-Christians alike, it continues to be a time of joy, compassion, and celebration.

To all those celebrating today and over the next week, British Online Archives wishes you a very Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!

Authored by British Online Archives

British Online Archives

British Online Archives provides unique collections of primary source documents for students and researchers studying the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Share this article

Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

Get Social

Back to Top