Painting: Nativity of Christ. Artist: Lorenzo Lotto. 1523.
Taken from http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/lorenzo-lotto/nativity-of-christ-1523
Christmas, with roots going back to thousands of years ago, represents perhaps the most antique traditions and the most important feast in Europe throughout centuries. Christmas celebrates the Holy Miracle of the Nativity of Jesus Christ and is usually associated with the beginning of a new period, renewal, spiritual purification and great hope for a better future.
Dates and Feasts of the Christmas period
In Europe Christmas usually refers to the long period including some feasts preceding and following the actual Christmas Day. The dates and duration of this period vary according to the local traditions in different countries.
In the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican traditions of the Western Europe Christmas Day is December 25, and there are two “seasons” that constitute the whole period: Advent and Christmastide. Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, and it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Advent includes feasts of St Barbara, St Nicholas, St Ambrose and St Lucy. Christmastide, called also the Christmas season or the Twelve Days of Christmas, lasts from Christmas Eve to Epiphany (i.e. from December 24 to January 6). Christmastide features, besides Christmas Eve and Day, also St Stephen’s Day, St Sylvester’s Day (New Year) and Epiphany.
In the Orthodox countries Christmas Day falls on January 6, that corresponds to the earliest date of the Christian commemoration of the Nativity related to the Epiphany (according to the records of the 2-4th centuries). In post-Soviet countries, due to the great spread of the New Year traditions during the 20th century, the festive period starts usually with the New Year celebration, on December 31, includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and ends with the so-called “Old New Year”, a celebration of the New Year by “old”, Julian calendar, that is on January 13-14. In Russia and Ukraine this date is associated also with the feast of St Basil and some celebrations of much more ancient origins, in Serbia this day is called popularly “Little Christmas”.