Many of the things done during this time of year (such as festivities, gift giving and yule logs) have their roots in pagan traditions used by ancient peoples in order to celebrate the winter solstice.
Gift and charitable giving was an early Roman practice during the festival of Sol Invictus held from mid to late December. Various foods and the usage of trees for decorations were used by Germanic peoples during their celebrations which started with feasts that began on December 25th.
The Nordic peoples of Sweden and Denmark commemorated the winter solstice with their Yule holiday that involved the usage of yule logs, feasting on cooked goats and boars, and even singing in which Nordic holiday festivities started in late December and lasted until early January.
During Christianity's origins, Christians originally did not commemorate their messiah's birthday since they believed his Second Coming would come soon.
Had it not been the Renaissance spanning the 14th to 17th centuries that ushered in new eras of scientific and economic progress, the era known as The Dark Ages would have kept mankind enslaved to faith and irrationality for much longer.
As a result of the influence of the Renaissance and Christians realizing their savior might not return as soon as they had originally believed, the result was implementing a holiday on December 25th modeled after the Sol Invictus and Yule pagan festivals in order to commemorate their messiah's birth.
In 17th century Massachsetts commemorations of Jesus's birthday were originally denounced by Puritans and Protestant radicals as being worldy and were subsequently outlawed. Despite the ban's demise in 1681, celebrating Christmas didn't become socially acceptiable in the state until the mid-1800's.
Ultimately, Christmas is not about celebrating an altruistic or mystic belief, nor is it about participating in charitable events, such as serving food to the homeless and poor or plopping coins into a charity bucket. What Christmas is and should be used to celebrate the two things responsible for our happiness and prosperity: profit and commercialism.
It is the modern-day religionist Ebeneezer Scrooges
who say Bah Humbug
to commericalism of any kind
which condemns the economic progress that makes holidays, like Christmas, and the overall abundance we enjoy possible. Religionists condemn profit and capitalism, yet, in one way or another, they and their followers are the beneficiaries of the very economic system that enabled them to be where they are now.
Progress itself is not inevitable and what occurs during the Holiday season is usually the result of ideas espoused today. Because religion (especially Christianity) holds sacrifice and suffering as it's highest values, imagine what would happen if we followed these ethics to their irrational and illogical conclusions.
People would no longer receive Christmas bonuses or gifts of Turkeys or hams, no more trees and decorations, no more Christmas and after-holiday sales. No more exchange of gifts, yule-tide cheer, holiday parties with egg nog and good food, extended shopping hours, nor any special television shows and movies and advertising.
Taking suffering and sacrifice even further, as demonstrated by Christianity's hero Jesus, we would also be denied alot of the meal dishes, clothes, medical breakthroughs, electronic communications, books and newspapers as well as many of the means of transportation we enjoy. Even the poor would wallow in even more misery equal to that seen in many third world countries due to the lack of conveniences they could have.
If we all did what we were told by mystical intellectual elites the stagnation that results from their altrustic mantra would make life intollerable and under the above scenario I have no doubt anti-capitalist Grinches would end up condemning businesses for not producing or doing enough. This is why religion and capitalism are incompatible. Capitalism empowers man to be able to use his reason and abilities to produce and prosper while religion emphasizes sacrifice and faith while condemning prosperity of which the latter ethics are deterimental to anyone's ability to live.
Despite the economic hardships seen this past year, movie theaters, shopping centers and restaurants are still attracting crowds and, better still, those of us who are still employed are able to celebrate this time of year. Our doing so helps create wealth so everytone, including the unemployed or poor, can benefit.
To villify or demonize commercialism is to spit in our faces and condemn mankind to a life of misery and despair. Since commerce is a natural outgrowth of reason and science and not the result of the invisible hand of a god or mystical creation, it is clear that we have earned the abundance we enjoy this and even other times of the year.
The special meaning of this holiday is not religious, pietistic, or self-sacrificial. It is recognizing the reality that (underneath it all) our lives require us to use our minds and rational self-interest (i.e. ego) in order to live and prosper.
The goods and services that support you and your loved ones are created ultimately by selfish capitalists using science and they, as well as you, profit from their production. A process magnified for Christmas.