“Jesus is the reason for the season” … “The REAL meaning of Christmas” … “Keep Christ in Christmas”… Sound familiar? We hear these phrases every year as many of those who follow the Christian faith try to promote the idea that theirs is the original and only legitimate holiday celebration. But it’s simply not true.
Unless the Christian’s holiday celebration consists solely of setting out a nativity scene & going to church, then the observances are pagan in origin. That said – I think everyone should celebrate whatever traditions they wish… regardless of their faith.
I, for one, do not limit myself solely to the celebrations of my personal path. I incorporate aspects of many different traditions and don’t see this as a conflict. Why? Because I respect and honor those traditions in and of themselves, and do not try to insinuate that they are anything that they are not. As such, I don’t dishonor or offend those who DO follow those traditions and consider them sacred.
The truth is that all of the Winter Holiday customs pre-date the Christian church, and are NOT Christian. They have been adopted & incorporated into the church. I have no problem with aspects of my faith being celebrated by those who do not follow my path. In fact, I welcome it.
What I find offensive, do not appreciate, and cannot stomach is the arrogance which insists that these things are NOT pagan and are, instead, Christian… and that the “REAL” meaning (source) of the holiday is the idea of Christ’s birth.
Santa is not Christian, no matter how many pictures and figurines there are of the jolly man in red kneeling before a manger. Neither are candy canes, snowmen, Christmas trees, exchanging presents, etc etc etc.
It is important to be educated & really understand what it is you’re celebrating during this Winter Holiday season. In that light:
- Christmas Trees – Pagans have, since the beginning, revered the Evergreen trees & would decorate them as part of their sacred celebrations. They are considered a symbol of winter’s inability to stop the cycle of renewal, and a promise of the return of the sun, celebrated at the Winter Solstice.
- Mistletoe – Figures heavily in Norse mythology & Druidic rituals. (Also: Holly, Ivy, Wreaths & the like)
- Caroling – Early carols were sung in a circle dance by European Celts as part of fertility rituals. There was also raucous singing in the streets by naked revelers during Saturnalia. The practice of wassailing (signing from door to door) was another pagan custom. These were later adopted as a (now clothed) way to celebrate Christmas.
- Candy Canes – They were not created to represent the purity & blood of Jesus, or as a ‘secret code’ between early Christians, or to represent the shepherds’ crooks. They’re justcandy.
- Exchanging Presents – The tradition of ‘gifting’ small, meaningful tokens has always figured heavily in Pagan rituals & celebrations.
- Yule Logs – Yule has been celebrated by ancient Pagans & especially the Norse who would bring in large logs for the fire in recognition of the return of the sun. There would be feasting during the days the log burned down.
- December 25th – The last day of the ‘Saturnalia’ celebration, an ancient & hedonistic Roman holiday. Also very near the Winter Solstice, an ancient Pagan observance celebrating the return, or birth, of the Sun God (often depicted with a halo of light or rays of sun emanating from him… sound familiar?). The church, in an attempt to bring Pagans into the faith, ‘rebranded’ December 25th as the “official” date of Jesus’ birth. The church encouraged these new followers to continue celebrating in the manner they had been, simply adding a celebration of the birth on the 25th.
- Santa Claus – The man who came to be known as “Saint Nicholas” was born in Turkey & became the Bishop of Myra. He was named a saint in the 19th century. He was known for being charitable & assisting those in need. In 1087 a group of sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy. There, they ‘adopted’ the local custom stories of the female boon-giving deity called The Grandmother (or Pasqua Epiphania) who would fill children’s stockings with her gifts. The followers ousted The Grandmother from her shrine & put Nicholas in her place, saying that he was the one who gave gifts. This is where the legends (not fact) of his gifting originated. The cult grew & spread until it reached the German & Celtic pagans who had their own history of worshipping Woden who had a long, white beard & rode a horse through the heavens. Again, the observances were merged. In a bid for pagan followers in Northern Europe, the Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult, incorporated it into their liturgy, and began teaching that he did (and they should) distribute gifts on December 25th, which they had already established as the “birth date”. Through the years, modern secularism has blended this history with a variety of other traditions and stories from around the globe to create what we now know as ‘Santa Claus’ – a blend of Christian crusader, pagan god, and commercial idol.
Now, I am not saying that anyone should not celebrate the way they wish. I don’t believe that these traditions should be stripped from Christian households. I am simply asking that they be acknowledged for what they are, and that respect be given to their origins.
Put up a tree, decorate it with lights, burn your Yule log, sing carols, tell stories of Santa Claus, and all the rest. Enjoy this magical time to the fullest! Because at its core, this season is all about family, peace, love, and spreading joy to others. It’s a time to come together and ‘drink from the cup of human kindness’…
So please, celebrate in the manner you wish, and allow me to do the same – without having to listen to the perpetuation of the lie that my traditions are not mine.