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Features, Religion & Spirituality

Christmas, holiday or pagan tradition?

In all my forty-something years, I have never thought twice about Christmas. I absolutely love the atmosphere around this time of the year. The air seems different from the rest of the year. Surely, this is a special time. Long ago when I was a young girl, my parents would exchange Christmas cards with our neighbours. This was a precious annual ritual that I grew up with. Christmas has always been a happy, festive season which we welcome and enjoy immensely. However, this year a thought crossed my mind. What are the origins of Christmas? Is it really a Christian holiday or a pagan tradition? Is it mentioned in the Bible? I posted the question on my Facebook timeline and the responses were phenomenal! None included the birth of Jesus Christ!


The first response was from Cylia: It’s some holiday of some nations that existed long before Jesus, when those people became Christians they decided they were not gonna leave all their holidays they rather rename them into Christmas for the birth of Jesus, whom the Bible never said he was born on the 25th of Dec, and Easter for Jesus’s death, which actually they used to celebrate with eggs and rabbits.

The next comment came from Paul: It started as a pagan festival. Mid-winter in the northern hemisphere. Then was adopted by Christians as the birthday of Christ. The traditions of Christmas cards and a decorated tree were introduced to Britain from Germany by Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert. But there’s always been a tradition of feasting and celebration to mark the darkest time of year.

Jacques had a lot to say but here’s a snippet of his comment: It is ancient Northern hemisphere festivals celebrating the Winter solstice (+/- 21 December).
The top of a tree would be cut off and brought home to demonstrate that the snow is starting to melt. Lights would be lit and shiny objects put on the tree to encourage the sun to shine for longer and brighter. Gifts would be given to family and friends who aided in helping everyone to survive the Winter months. Mistle toes hanged to symbolise fertility and a good harvest awaiting for sunnier days, etc etc etc.
Santa Claus is a Coca-Cola inspiration from many folklore tales of individuals stealing naughty kids or bringing presents for obedient kids etc.

Strictly speaking – According to the Bible the wise men with gifts from the East (inspired by ancient zoroastrianism) found sheep herders outside. This will imply a period of around August as Decembers would’ve been to cold to keep sheep outside at night.

Before you can say, ‘Merry Christmas’, ask yourself what exactly it is you are celebrating.

The last Roman Emperor converted to Christianity for political reasons, I believe. Some nations were very difficult to subdue and would not give up their own religions, so including some of their rituals and festivals was also a diplomatic move, ” said Isobel

Dawie agreed with none of them and spoke out, “The amount of historical ignorance on this thread is astounding. I’ve missed a “not this shit again” button on FB for ages.

Christmas probably originated as a private early-4th-century celebratory innovation, possibly as an outgrowth of the Feast of the Epiphany, which is attested considerably earlier. It probably simply caught on and gained popularity, the way things do, while other contemporary innovations failed to capture the popular imagination. The most elementary study of hagiography will reveal how common such processes were prior to the early modern period.

Christmas, as a 12-day feast, is bound to the Season of Advent before it and anchored to the already-established date for Epiphany in early January. The theme of anticipation of (re)birth certainly lent the feast to an elucidatory strategy w.r.t. especially Germanic and Celtic festivals in early missionary projects, and probably accounts in part for the subsequent prominence of Christmas in the liturgical calendar. In other words, it isn’t a pagan festival; but it was used to propose clarifications of existing pagan festivals on a philosophical or theological level.

Easter is likewise intimately bound to Passover. English is one of very few languages in which the word for Easter is not directly derived from the word for Passover, and this has in the anglophone world led to such nonsense as the “Eostre” theory. The eggs-and-bunnies angle probably relates to simultaneous spring celebrations, the attempts to tie which to Easter itself rather than Eastertide (a time of year) feel a lot like Victorian constructive folklorism.

I think a lot of the confusion results from the fact that we no longer celebrate seasons, like Advent and Lent, but rather Public Holidays, when we’re allowed time off work, a single day at a time. In this way the change is related to the rise of the wage system, i.e. of capitalism.”

Martin did not have much to say, except, “The Bible tells us to celebrate His death and resurrection, not His birth.
We don’t actually know what day he was born.”

Mike had this to say: The Roman Saturnalia were held on the 25th December. My guess is that the historical Jesus was born on the 8th January, 12 nights after the Saturnalia, hence the Epiphany. The Magi would have been serious astrologers, probably more Chaldean than Persian.

Last, but not least was Mandla, “Christmas like Christianity is a western traditional practice.”

You too can join in the discussion. Get in touch with me on Facebook and let’s air it out! AIR IT OUT WITH CONNIE FACEBOOK PAGE

About Constance van Niekerk

Constance van Niekerk, (Connie V) is a creative writer, poet, music lover, spoken word artist, freelance writer, blogger and educator. She has contributed to several anthologies and published her own collection, Echoes of My Heart: A Poetry Collection available for purchase on all Amazon Stores Worldwide. Follow her on Twitter : @convanniekerk Connect with her on Facebook and Linkedin.


3 thoughts on “Christmas, holiday or pagan tradition?

  1. What that guy Paul says seems the closest to what I’ve heard. There’s a history of Christians hijacking other pre-existing festivals, too. I researched the origins of Hallowe’en, for example, which was originally pagan before All Hallows Eve.

    But since I’m not religious myself it was never more than an academic question.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Mister Bump UK | Dec 17, 2021, 15:05
    • A lot of Christians say that they celebrate Christmas because it’s the birth of Jesus Christ, even if you tell them that Jesus was not born in December… They still claim to be celebrating his birth on the 25th of Dec… Why? If I was born in April, why would people celebrate my birthday in November?

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Connie V | Dec 17, 2021, 19:57
      • That particular one was debunked to me as a child. There is plenty of evidence that yes, he did exist, but that no, he wasn’t both on 25 December. Independent from anything you might read in the bible.
        In this particular case, the answer is “because the church says so”. That’s true of lots of things you believe.


        Posted by Mister Bump UK | Dec 17, 2021, 20:53

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