White is the sanctuary color for the Christmas Season. White calls to mind the purity of the newborn Christ and to our light and joy in him. Some churches also use Gold.
Christmas, also known as the Nativity, literally means "Christ Mass." The feast celebrates the birth and incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on December 25. Christmastide is another name for the Christmas season, which extends from the first Vespers of Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
The original meaning of Christmas? Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, as a little baby in Bethlehem, within the realm of history. While many Christians recognize Christmas as a celebration of Jesus' birth, the solemnity is also a festival of his Incarnation, that is, God becoming human in the person of Jesus. Outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and a few others, the idea of Christmas as a season has nearly disappeared. Although secular traditions are fun and endearing, Christmas is primarily a Christian holy day. Even the term itself is an abbreviation of the phrase "Christ mass," which reflects the primary understanding of Christmas as a feast day within the Church year, connected to the Eucharist. Unfortunately, in recent times, celebrating Christmas with the Church has taken a backseat to food preparation, gift opening, and other festivities that, while good, are only secondary activities that are not meant to replace the primary "reason for the season": celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. While many mention the need to put Christ back in Christmas, the need is greater than that. As an Anglican priest once noted: we need to put the "mass" back in Christmas too.
Christmastide is the name given for the time surrounding Christmas Day. In the current Catholic calendar, Christmastide lasts from Christmas Day until the Baptism of our Lord, which is the Sunday following January 6th. This time includes many other important Christian Holy Days. The 12 days of Christmas, the time from December 25th until the Epiphany (Jan. 6th), have often been recognized as a time for special feasting. In fact, Christmastide used to refer to the 12 Days of Christmas, and some still use "Christmastide" to refer to this period. In the past, the season of Christmas lasted from Christmas until Candlemas, and superstitions developed, e.g. that there was bad luck ahead for those who left Christmas decorations up after Candlemas.
Even though the Bible does not record a specific celebration of a feast of Christ's birth, the Infancy Narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke form the basis of the Christmas celebration. Thus, the history of Christmas ultimately goes back to the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ around 4 BC. At least by the time of St. Matthew and St. Luke's Gospels, Christians began to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, and its significance. A few of the early Church Fathers speculated about the birth of Jesus, but the actual liturgical celebration of Christmas cannot be fixed with certainty before the very early 4th century. Some scholars think that the celebration of Epiphany (originating in the East), which included the nativity and modern Christmastide themes, was celebrated much earlier (possibly late 2nd century). The celebration of Christmas uniquely as the nativity of Jesus Christ, however, originated in the West, probably in North Africa. While various 3rd century Church Fathers (including St. Hippolytus of Rome and Sextus Julius Africanus) believed Jesus was born on December 25, the earliest surviving reference to December 25th as the liturgical celebration of Christmas is in the Philocalian calendar, which shows the Roman practice in AD 336. The Apostolic Constitutions (c AD 380) mandate the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th, and his Epiphany on January 6 (see Book V:III:XIII). The celebration of Christmas spread throughout the whole of the East and the West in the 4th century. By the fifth century, almost all of the Church was observing December 25th as the Feast of the Nativity and Epiphany on January 6th, although some Christians still kept January 6th as a holy day which included the nativity. The West was slower to embrace Epiphany, but by the fifth century Rome included it as a feast. Today, in the Western Church, the season of Christmas, called Christmastide, includes the Epiphany (the manifestation of Christ to the wise men) and the baptism of Jesus.
Christmas was universally celebrated until the Reformation, but many Protestant reformers rejected Christmas. The English Puritans were particularly hostile to Christmas and went to absurd lengths to suppress it. During the brief Calvinist reign in England, parliament forbade the celebration of Christmas, even going so far as to force shops to be open. This attitude carried over into the Americas where Christmas was outlawed or criminalized in Puritan states. For example, in Massachusetts, until the 1830s, anyone who missed school or work on December 25th was subject to a fine. During the earliest days of the USA, with the exception of Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, the religious and secular celebration of Christmas would have been quite rare. Even in the 21st century, many people, for a variety of reasons, reject the celebration of Christmas.