Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The word Christmas comes from Cristes maesse, an early English phrase that means Mass （弥撒） or festival of Christ. Scholars believe the frequently used shortened form of Christmas － Xmas － may have come into use in the 13th century. In Greek, X is the first letter of Christ's name, and also represents the cross on which Jesus was crucified （钉在十字架上处死）
In the 4th century the Roman Catholic Church chose December 25 as the day for the Feast of the Nativity （耶稣诞辰） . The church chose December 25 for a Christian holy day in the hope of giving Christian meaning to existing pagan celebrations of the winter solstice （冬至） . As a result, many pagan customs gradually became part of the Christmas celebration.
By the 12th century, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. In the 19th century, two Christmas customs became popular － decorating Christmas trees and sending Christmas cards to relatives and friends. Many well-known Christmas carols were composed during this period.
For most people who celebrate Christmas, the holiday season is an occasion for gatherings （聚会） of family and friends, feasting, and giving gifts. The celebration of Christmas became increasingly important to many kinds of businesses.
One of the most important Christmas traditions is receiving gifts from Santa Claus. Many young children believe that the presents they receive at Christmas are given by Santa Claus, who is a jolly, white-bearded fat man in a red suit and red hat. According to the story, Santa Claus travels through the air from somewhere near the North Pole in a sled drawn by reindeer （驯鹿） and comes down the chimney （烟囱） to leave the presents. Today, Santa Claus brings presents to children in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Many department stores hire people to wear a Santa Claus costume and listen to children's requests. In Great Britain Santa Claus is also called Father Christmas. During the weeks before Christmas, children write letters to Father Christmas and tell him what presents they would like to receive. They then throw these letters into the fire. Children believe that if a draft draws the letter up through the chimney, their wishes will be fulfilled.
A traditional Christmas dinner in America includes stuffed turkey （火鸡） , mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce （越橘酱） , and a variety of other dishes. Roast turkey is the most popular main course not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Some families have ham or roast goose instead of turkey. Favorite desserts include mince pie or pumpkin pie, plum pudding （李子布丁） and fruitcake. Eggnog （蛋奶酒） is a popular Christmas beverage （饮料） in many homes. In Britain, Christmas dinner is eaten at noon, and the dinner usually includes roast turkey or goose, Christmas pudding with mince pies, and accompanied by wine.
圣诞节是个基督教节日，庆祝耶稣基督诞生。英文“ Christmas ”一词源于古英语的“ Cristes maesse ”，意思是基督的弥撒，或基督的节日。至于频繁使用的圣诞节的简写形式“ Xmas ”，学者们认为也许是始于 13 世纪。在希腊语里，“ X ”是“基督”的首字母，同时“ X ”也象征耶稣受难的十字架。
公元 4 世纪，罗马天主教会将耶稣的诞辰定在 12 月 25 日。教会将 12 月 25 日定为基督教节日是为了给当时异教的冬至庆祝活动注入基督教的含义。结果，很多异教习俗逐渐融入圣诞节的庆祝活动。
到了 12 世纪，圣诞节已成为欧洲最重要的宗教节日。 19 世纪，两个圣诞节习俗，即装饰圣诞树和向亲友赠送圣诞卡，变得流行起来。许多著名的圣诞颂歌也是在这一时期创作的。
圣诞节的重要传统之一是接受圣诞老人赠送的礼物。许多小孩子相信自己在圣诞节收到的礼物来自圣诞老人。圣诞老人是个快活的胖老头儿，长着白胡子，身穿红 袍，头戴红帽。据说圣诞老人从北极附近的某地出发，驾着驯鹿拉的雪橇从空中飞到各家，从烟囱进入屋内，留下礼物。现在，许多国家，包括美国、加拿大、英国 和澳大利亚，都有圣诞老人把节日礼物送给孩子们。许多商店雇人装扮成圣诞老人，倾听孩子们的愿望。在英国，圣诞老人也叫“ Father Christmas ”。圣诞节前几周，孩子们就开始写信给圣诞老人，告诉他自己想要什么礼物。然后他们把信扔进壁炉的火里。他们相信，如果上升的气流把灰烬顺烟囱带了上去， 他们的愿望便会得到满足。
在美国，圣诞节宴席上的传统食物有填馅的火鸡、土豆泥、越橘酱等。烤火鸡不但在美国，在加拿大、澳大利亚和新西兰也是圣诞宴席上最普遍的主菜。也有的人家 不吃火鸡，而吃火腿或烤鹅。人们最喜欢的饭后甜点包括甜馅饼或南瓜馅饼、李子布丁和水果蛋糕。蛋奶酒是许多家庭喜欢的饮料。在英国，圣诞宴在中午举行，传 统食品有烤火鸡或烤鹅、圣诞布丁、甜馅饼和葡萄酒。