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Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Christmas festivities often combine the commemoration of Jesus' birth with various customs, many of which have been influenced by earlier winter festivals. Traditions include the display of Nativity scenes, Holly and Christmas trees, the exchange of gifts and cards, and the arrival of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill, compassion and peace.
In most places around the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25. It is preceded by Christmas Eve on December 24, and in some countries is followed by Boxing Day on December 26. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6, while certain old rite or old style Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, the date on the Gregorian calendar which corresponds to 25 December on the Julian Calendar. The date as a birthdate for Jesus is merely traditional, and is not widely considered to be his actual date of birth.
The word "Christmas" is a contraction meaning "Christ's mass." It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. Dutch has a similar word, Kerstmis often shortened to Kerst. The words for the holiday in Spanish (navidad), Portuguese (natal), Polish (Boże Narodzenie), French (noël), Italian (natale), and Catalan (nadal) refer more explicitly to the Nativity. In contrast, the German name Weihnachten means simply "hallowed night." After the conversion of Anglo-Saxon Britain in the very early 7th century, Christmas was referred to as geol, the name of the pre-Christian solstice festival from which the current English word 'Yule' is derived. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Since the mid-sixteenth century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ.