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Dates of celebration

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Christmas is now celebrated on December 25 in Catholic, Protestant, and most Orthodox churches. The Coptic, Jerusalem, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian and Georgian Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7. This date results from their having accepted neither the reforms of the Gregorian calendar nor the Revised Julian calendar, with their ecclesiastic December 25 thus falling on the civil (Gregorian) date of January 7 from 1900 to 2099. The Armenian Church places much more emphasis on the Epiphany, the visitation by the Magi, than on Christmas.

Some scholars suggest that December 25 is a date of convenience chosen for other reasons, related to the time of Roman Emperor Constantine. December 25 in the Roman world was the Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, but it may not have been as early as Christmas, if it was a Roman reaction to the Church being persecuted then. It may have served as an attempt to eclipse a precious devotion of Christians, amidst attempts to kill all Christians off. Many of the earliest Christian writings were destroyed during those persecutions.

St. Hippolytus, who was already knowledgeably defending the faith in writing at the turn of the century, entering the 3rd century AD, said that Christ was born Wednesday, December 25, in the 42nd year of Augustus' reign (see his Commentary on Daniel, circa AD 204, Bk. 4, Ch. 23).

Additional calculations are made on the basis of the six-year almanac of Priestly Rotations, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe that this almanac lists the week when John the Baptist's father would have served as a high priest. As it is implied John the Baptist could only be conceived during that particular week; and as his conception is believed to be tied to that of Jesus, it is claimed that an approximate date of December 25 can be arrived at for the birth of Jesus. However, most scholars (e.g. see Catholic Encyclopedia in sources), believe this calculation to be unreliable as it is based on a string of assumptions.

Dates for the more secular aspects of the Christmas celebration are similarly varied. In the United Kingdom, the Christmas season traditionally runs for twelve days following Christmas Day. These twelve days of Christmas, a period of feasting and merrymaking, end on Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany. This period corresponds with the liturgical season of Christmas. Medieval laws in Sweden declared a Christmas peace (julefrid) to be 20 days, during which fines for robbery and manslaughter were doubled. Swedish children still celebrate a party, throwing out the Christmas tree (julgransplundring), on the 20th day of Christmas (January 13, Knut's Day).

In practice, the Christmas period has grown longer in some countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and now begins many weeks before Christmas, allowing more time for shopping and get-togethers. It extends beyond Christmas Day up to New Year's Day. This later holiday has its own parties. In some instances, including Scotland's Hogmanaywhich occurs at the New Yearit is celebrated more than Christmas.

Countries that celebrate Christmas on December 25 recognize the previous day as Christmas Eve, and vary on the naming of December 26. In the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, and Poland, Christmas Day and the following day are called First and Second Christmas Day. In many European and Commonwealth countries, December 26 is referred to as Boxing Day, while in Ireland, Romania and Catalonia it is known as St. Stephen's Day.

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