Christmas had to wait more than 300 years after the birth of Jesus before it began to be popularized in a meaningful way. Instead, the first Christians were focused on spreading the word about Christianity while avoiding official persecution, which began as early as A.D. 64 under the Roman emperor Nero. For the next two centuries and more, Christians endured prison and death at the hands of the Roman Empire, while Egyptian, Greek, and Persian gods continued to be worshiped freely.
Things began to change when Emperor Constantine, who came to power over the Roman Empire in 306, gradually converted to Christianity. As a result, Christianity became the state religion, and public funds were used to build churches. Constantine commissioned the building of the Church of the Nativity on a spot in Bethlehem that was believed to be the exact birthplace of Christ. By the end of the fourth century, the old forms of worship had been banned and Christianity began spreading.
In the first centuries A.D., the Roman Empire extended around the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing areas we now know as northern Africa (including Egypt), the Middle East (including present-day Israel, Jordan, and Syria), Europe (including France, England, Italy, and Greece), and the region where Europe borders Asia (Turkey).