Believers worldwide celebrate Dec. 25 as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the unique Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.
As told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.
In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus' home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.
Roman Catholic churches begin Christmas the previous night with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate the holiday with special cantatas and carols.
Church youths like to stage "Living Nativity'' scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.
Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the "Twelve Days of Christmas'' in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.
— James D. Davis