The Christmas season,also called the festive season, the holiday season (mainly in the U.S. and Canada), or simply the holidays, is an annually recurring period recognized in many Westernand Western-influenced countries that is generally considered to run from late November to early January. It is defined as incorporating at leastChristmas, and usually New Year, and sometimes various other holidays and festivals. It also is associated with a period of shopping which comprises a peak season for the retail sector (the “Christmas (or holiday) shopping season”), and a period of sales at the end of the season (the “January sales”). Christmas windowdisplays and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies when trees decorated with ornaments and light bulbs are illuminated, are traditions in many areas.
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In the denominations ofWestern Christianity, the term “Christmas season” is considered synonymous withChristmastide, a term associated with Yuletide, which runs from December 25 (Christmas Day) to January 5 (Epiphany Eve), popularly known as the 12 Days of Christmas. However, as the economic impact involving the anticipatory lead-up to Christmas Day grew in America and Europe into the 19th and 20th centuries, the term “Christmas season” began to become synonymous instead with the traditional Christian Adventseason, the period observed in Western Christianity from the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day until Christmas Day itself. The term “Advent calendar” survives in secular Western parlance as a term referring to a countdown to Christmas Day from the beginning of December.
Beginning in the mid-20th century, as the Christian-associated Christmas holiday became increasingly secularized and central to American economics and culture while religio-multicultural sensitivity rose, generic references to the season that omitted the word “Christmas” became more common in the corporate and public sphere of the United States, which has caused a semantics controversy that continues to the present. By the late 20th century, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkahand the new African American cultural holiday of Kwanzaabegan to be considered in the U.S. as being part of the “holiday season”, a term that as of 2013 has become equally or more prevalent than “Christmas season” in U.S. sources to refer to the end-of-the-year festive period. “Holiday season” has also spread in varying degrees to Canada; however, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the phrase “holiday season” is not widely understood to be synonymous with the Christmas–New Year period, and is often instead associated with summer holidays.
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of thedeity Saturn, held on December 17 of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and acarnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for theirslaves. The poet Catulluscalled it “the best of days.”
The tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25 appears to date from the 4th century when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of theRoman Empire.
In the Christian tradition theChristmas season is a periodbeginning on Christmas Day(December 25). In some churches (e.g. the Anglican Communion) the season continues until the day before the Epiphany, which is celebrated either on January 6 or on the Sunday between January 2 and 8. In other churches (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church) it continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday following the Epiphany, or on the Monday following the Epiphany if the Epiphany is moved to January 7 or 8. If the Epiphany is kept on January 6, the Church of England‘s use of the termChristmas season corresponds to the Twelve Days of Christmas, and ends onTwelfth Night.
This short Christmas season is preceded by Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day: the majority of the secularized Christmas and holiday season falls during Advent. TheAnglican Communion and some Protestant churches follow the Christmas season with an Epiphany seasonwhich lasts until Shrove Tuesday which is also known as Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’. Other European cultures have their own carnival festivities between new year and Lent.
Secularisation and commercialisation
According to Yanovski et al.,in the United States the holiday season “is generally considered to begin with the day after Thanksgiving and end after New Year’s Day“. According to Axelrad, the season in the United States encompasses at least Christmas and New Year’s Day, and also includes Saint Nicholas Day. The U.S. Fire Administration defines the “Winter Holiday Season” as the period from December 1 to January 7. According to Chen et al., in China the Christmas and holiday season “is generally considered to begin with the winter solsticeand end after the Lantern Festival“. Some stores and shopping malls advertise their Christmas merchandise beginning after Halloween or even in late October, alongside Halloween items. In the UK and Ireland, Christmas food generally appears on supermarket shelves as early as September or even August, while the Christmas shopping season itself starts from mid November when the high street Christmas lights are switched on.
The precise definition of feasts and festival days that are encompassed by the Christmas and holiday season has become controversial in the United States over recent decades. While in other countries the only holidays included in the “season” areChristmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day,New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Epiphany, in recent times, this definition in the U.S. has begun to expand to include Yule, Hanukkah,Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.The expansion of the holiday season in the U.S. to encompass Thanksgiving is believed to have begun in the 1920s, when major department stores Macy’s andGimbels launched dueling Thanksgiving Day parades to promote Christmas sales.Due to the phenomenon ofChristmas creep and the informal inclusion of Thanksgiving, the Christmas and holiday season has begun to extend earlier into the year, overlappingVeterans/Remembrance/Armistice Day, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night.