Marking the birth of Jesus , Christmas is a religious holiday for Christians . For many people it is no longer only a religious festival. It has become a season of gift giving and celebration. The holiday is officially observed on December 25. In the United States, however, the Christmas season usually begins after Thanksgiving and lasts until early January. It is one of the most colorful and festive times of the year.
There are many traditions that go along with the Christmas holiday in the United States. Decorating a Christmas tree with strings of lights and ornaments is one of the beloved customs of the holiday. Another common custom is gift giving, which is frequently associated with Santa Claus. Children leave out cookies for Santa to eat as he delivers presents. They also hang stockings for him to fill with gifts. Other traditions include the sending of cards to family and friends, parties with good food and drink, and the singing of carols and other songs.
In many European countries families exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, December 24. Like Santa, Father Christmas and Père Noël are said to bring presents to children in the United Kingdom and France, respectively. In Spain and Italy children receive presents on the night of January 5. Spanish children leave out their shoes, which they believe are filled with gifts by one of the Wise Men.
In the United States and Europe people associate Christmas with cold weather and snow. In Australia and South America, however, December 25 comes during the summer. In Brazil people have outdoor Christmas picnics and fireworks. People around the world enjoy eating special Christmas treats. In the United Kingdom families make mincemeat pie and plum pudding. In France people eat a bûche de Noël (Christmas log), a log-shaped sponge cake. People in Mexico like to make buñuelos , fried tortillas covered with syrup and cinnamon sugar. Finally, many Christians around the world attend church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In the village of Bethlehem in the Middle East, where Jesus is said to have been born, special services are held at the Church of the Nativity.