From “The History of Christmas” by Deborah Hopkinson in A Joyful Christmas by James Ransome:
“Toys and bright tinsel, cookies and carols, sparkling lights and pine-scented trees. All these things make Christmas special. How did the celebration of the birth of one child so long ago come to include so many different traditions?
“People have celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25 since the fourth century. But the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact date of his birth. Most historians don’t think Jesus was born in December at all, as it would have been too cold then for the shepherds to be keeping watch over their sheep at night.
“But it was natural for the early Christians to choose December 25 as the birthday of the Christ child. The Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian in the year 312. He decided to combine the celebration of the birth of the sun god, which the Romans celebrated on December 25, with the worship of Christ, who also brought light into the world….
“The winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year, took place just a few days before December 25 and was already a time of celebration in Europe. Families came together at the end of the harvest season to feast, dance, and sing….
“These celebrations at the darkest time of the year brought light and hope that spring would come again soon….”
From “The Winter Heart” by Don Russ in An American Christmas, edited by Jane B. Hill:
When the autumn afternoons have blown away
and, lavender and blue and silver and gray
with sleep, a cold December’s evenings ease
toward night, we wait. When crystallizing trees
and hills have paled to vapor and the dreaming world
could vanish in a final breath of whorled
and frozen white, we hope. If what we know
of love is summer’s coming just to go,
we wait and hope and — trembling — hold a start
of embers in a deeper hollow of the winter heart.