Preceded by the time of Advent or the Nativity fast, Christmas for Western culture is perhaps the most important holiday of the year. The Italian term 'Natale' comes from the Christian Latin Natāle(m) for ellipsis of diem natālem Christi ('day of Christ's birth'), in turn from the Latin natālis, derived from nātus ('born'), perfect participle of the verb nāsci ('to be born'). It is the best time to enjoy the company of friends and family. But in addition to the symbols we are familiar with, such as presents, Christmas also has a religious significance: Christmas Day is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the one who would later be identified by most members of the Jewish religion as the Messiah prophesied in the Holy Scriptures.
The birth of Jesus Christ is dated around the years 0-4, and 25 December is celebrated as the day of his birth on Earth; however, for the Eastern Orthodox Churches this holiday falls on 6 January, the day on which the Western Christian Church celebrates Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus before the Three Kings.
Christians began to celebrate Christmas Day only around the 4th century A.D., linking up with already existing traditions and festivities and loading them with a completely new message. Among these, the Jewish feast of Hannukkah, commemorating the consecration of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, is certainly worth mentioning.
Besides its religious origins, Christmas also has pagan and secular origins. The most significant are those related to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year that the Celts celebrated - mistakenly - on 25 December. This is a very important holiday in all those cults in which the worship of the sun, called Eliolatry, occupied a position of absolute prominence, and to which Christianity has certainly linked itself, as the sun can be seen as an emblem of the Christ figure. The Romans on the other hand, in the days just before Christmas, used to celebrate the Saturnalia, dedicated to the installation in the temple of Saturn, the god of agriculture: to wish for a period of peace and prosperity, it was customary to exchange gifts.
Popular modern customs of the feast include gift-giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and carols, attending a performance of the Nativity, an exchange of Christmas cards, religious services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, wreaths, mistletoe and holly. Several related and often interchangeable traditions, known as Father Christmas, St Nicholas and Christkind, are associated with gifts for children during the Christmas season.