Christianity and the Holidays

What are the varieties of celebration and tradition among the Christian sects?

The brightly lit tree, the candles glistening in the night. The lights and decor covering the town, the carolers singing through the street. The stockings hanging up, the presents hiding under the tree. The anticipation for the next day to finally come, after all…it’s Christmas Eve.  But each Christian denomination has its own traditions–what are they?

Christianity is the most practiced religion worldwide with seven main denominations and roughly 41,000 denominations total. states that the four main branches of this religion are Catholicism, Protestantism, the Anglican church and Orthodox churches (The 4 main branches of Christianity (with explanation) – yes, therapy helps! ( These three religions practice the religion differently, and the celebration of Christmas is no different.

Catholicism, according to thewittness, has over 50% of Christians following the religion and is the oldest denomination of Christianity (What are the Most Popular Christian Denominations? (2022) ( Some of the holiday traditions take place at home, while others are practiced at church. One of these traditions is advent, the preparation and waiting for the lord’s arrival. It starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and end on Christmas Eve.  This is practiced in many other religions and related to a range of preparatory Christmas practices. Some of these are setting up advent wreaths, keeping advent calendar, and setting up Christmas decoration and a Christmas tree.

Wooden nativity scene placed in a handcrafted night sky.

Another tradition is creating a nativity scene. Families come together and use creative liberty to recreate the Birth of Christ, which can be carves, premade, or crafted out of paper. Some families baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and many other figures presented in this scene are added one by one each evening to build up anticipation for the celebration to come.

Gift giving came from the concept that the magi gave gifts to baby Jesus after his birth. This is a tradition that is celebrated on different days in the Catholic religion, worldwide, but still something widely observed.

Apart from in church services, caroling is a tradition added to the holiday season on Christmas Eve to add joy and devoutness to the atmosphere. Candle and light decorations are also unique to the Christmas atmosphere. The light that shines symbolizes the light of Jesus the overshadows the darkness of sin and death.

The most popular element of a Catholic Christmas is the masses that take place four times during the holiday season. These masses are the Mass of the Divine Word (Christmas Day), the Vigil Mass (Christmas Eve), the Mass of the Angels (Midnight Mass), and the Mass of the Shepards (Dawn Mass). This is a tradition typically celebrated by adults and, occasionally, their children that leads the observers into a deeper spiritual experience that lets them reflect on what Christmas is truly about.

Yestherapyhelps also states that Protestantism was founded in the 1517 when Martin Luther officially demarcated himself from the Catholic Church. As said in, most protestants face a moral dilemma about the celebration Christmas because the bible never exhorts Christians to celebrate the holiday, or anything similar to it. However, there are some that claim it does not with their biblical faith are deem it okay to celebrate. Since the celebration of Christmas taking place on December 25th is derived from the Catholic Church, this is the one Catholic tradition that Protestants with joyfully and wholeheartedly accept (Why Do Protestants Celebrate Christmas? (

St. George students partaking in a holiday mass and singing songs in candlelight.

The Anglican Church attempts to keep “the holidays” and “Christmas” two separate entities. The holidays are specifically being with friend and family, gift giving, and feasting. Christmas, however, is portrayed as the Christ Mass. It is considered a blessing to be able to attend church and worship him, it is a gift that God graced upon us. They will feast and give gifts to honor Christ, not to celebrate the holidays. The Anglican Church will also celebrate the 12 days of Christmas in prayer and feast. This is to remind them that they are not of the world, and each have their own Christian way. Finally, they use Christmas as a time to remember the poor, those in need, and those who are outcasted. They are called to reach out to the fellow man, especially during this time of year, as an act of worship. Christmas and The Holidays – Anglican Compass

The Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar, which means their celebration of Christmas takes place in January, rather than December. While an orthodox Christmas is celebrated different based on country, the time is overall about self-reflection, prayer, and healing. Many Orthodox Christians celebrate the holiday over three days. On Christmas Eve there is usually a large, long church service in the morning with many choosing to fast. A few countries also host a Holy Supper, which consists of a 12-course vegetarian meal. The Holy Supper table is traditionally wrapped with white linen to represent the cloth baby Jesus was wrapped in. On some occasions, there is straw as well to symbolize the stable he was born. Candles are lit as a sign that fasting is over and some families set extra places to honor family members that are no longer with them.

Traditional Holy Supper dinner in Poland, presented with pyrohy, soup, bobal’ki, and small candlelight.

On Christmas Day, it is custom to go to church and exchange gifts at a huge feast with friends and family; eating plenty of meat and pastries and enjoying each other’s company. It’s also a custom to walk in procession towards a body of water to bless it. If the water happens to be iced over, they will poke holes in order to reach it.

Although Christmas is a holiday accepted and celebrated by Christians globally, the way each denomination celebrates and views it is both different and sacred to each of them.