The word “Christmas” was first recorded in 1038 , and it comes from the word “Cristes Maesse,” meaning “Christ’s mass.” The church in Rome formally began celebrating Christmas on December 25 in A.D. 336 .
The four Sundays leading up to Christmas is the season of Advent – a solemn time of prayer and fasting. While modern Christmas festivities last one day, celebrations lasted for 12 days during the Middle Ages. Christians in medieval Europe would hold elaborate festivities with sumptuous feasts and roisterous activities starting on Christmas and lasting until Epiphany on January 6 – where they commemorated the arrival of the Magi after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
“In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas was not as popular as Epiphany on 6 January, the celebration of the visit from the three kings or wise men, the Magi, to the baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,” according to Historic UK. “Indeed, Christmas was not originally seen as a time for fun and frolics but an opportunity for quiet prayer and reflection during a special mass. But by the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) Christmas had become the most prominent religious celebration in Europe, signaling the beginning of Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas as they are more commonly known today.”