- Feast of the Nativity
Name derived from Old English: Cristes Maesse, Christ’s Mass. Celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches. First mention of the feast, then kept on 20 May, was made by Clement of Alexandria c.200. The Latin Church began c.300 to observe it on 25 December, though there is no certainty that Our Lord was born on that day. Priests have the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight, daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved to the pope alone; beginning about the 4th century he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of Saint Anastasia, whose feast comes on 25 December, and a third at the Vatican Basilica. Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.