Long before Christianity, this season was celebrated with parties, holidays, gift giving and parades.
The time of the winter equinox has been celebrated by every civilization and culture for millenia in ways which many of us would recognize as part of modern celebrations.
The early Christian church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and in an attempt to nullify and replace the pagan sun festival of Saturnalia, held on December 25th, he placed the date for Christ’s birth on the same day.
Saturnalia was an empire wide celebration, which marked not only the birth of the pagan god Saturn, but also coincided with the time of the winter solstice. The celebrations included parties, holidays, the making and giving of gifts and large parades.
In 440 CE, the Christian Church officially adopted December 25th as the birth date of Jesus.
The exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown, but several references from scripture and the works of early Christian scholars point to the autumn of 2 BC.