The first evidence for Christmas as an observance of significance for Christians is found in the records of Rome. In the year 274, the emperor Aurelian introduced in the imperial capital the pagan festival of the Invincible Sun, Natalis Solis Invicti, on the 25th of December. Established on the date of the winter solstice, at some point before 336 the church took advantage of what had become a deeply rooted cultural observance and gave it Christian direction by connecting it with the Incarnation and identifying Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness”, a reference to Malachi 4:2.
The importance of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. In 1377, for example, it was noted that King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten!
Interestingly, in Colonial America the Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas and outlawed it. Later, when waves of European immigrants, particularly Germans, brought the celebration of Christmas with them, the holiday gained in popularity. For a time after the American Revolution, when all things European and especially, English, were considered unpatriotic, the celebration of Christmas fell out of favor. Yet ultimately interest in the holiday could not be suppressed. The beauty and meaning of the story of Christ’s birth and the revival of the “spirit” of Christmas, as popularized by Charles Dicken’s novel, A Christmas Carol (1843), established Christmas as the holiday of faith, family, goodwill and compassion that it is today.
The significance of Christmas for Christians lies not with knowing the exact day of Jesus' birth, be it December 25, July 4 or some other date, but with its meaning. With the prophets of old and the testimony of the centuries Christians gather in worship and celebration each Christmas in witness to their faith that Jesus, the Immanuel, is God’s great gift of salvation for all.