Christmas began as a celebration of the nativity story of Jesus in Rome in 354. It had been celebrated even earlier by Christians in the East, but they incorporated it into their Epiphany celebration on Jan. 6, which focused more on Jesus' baptism. The celebration of Christmas in Rome replaced the pagan solar festivals that occurred on Dec. 25.
The name "Christmas" comes from the Old English contraction for "Christ's Mass," which was first used in 1038. As a religious celebration, Christmas was fully embraced in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church. Eventually, Christmas came to include many traditions, some unrelated to the birth of Christ. One of the most common characteristics of Christmas is the gift giving. Many believe the exchange of gifts was inspired by Father Christmas, later Santa Claus. This mythological figure's origin is rooted in both religion and pagan folklore. He is believed to be based after St. Nicholas of Myra as well as popular pagan Nodic beliefs. When Reformation occurred in the 19th century, there was a temporary shift away from celebrating Christmas. It was seen by many Protestants as a Catholic holiday and by others as having inaccurate pagan roots. In early America, there was little celebration of Christmas. The Puritans that settled New England did not approve and even banned it in Boston. Despite all this, Christmas was revived and revamped by writers such as Charles Dickens and Washington Irving. These writers emphasized elements of Christmas such as warm traditions, family, compassion and generosity.