I sigh whenever I hear somebody say, “Happy Holidays,” as opposed to proclaiming “Merry Christmas!” In an effort to be more inclusive of other beliefs, it seems that the powers that be have forgotten the true origins of Christmas. It really is ironic considering the fact that Christmas was created as an equal opportunity holiday in the first place. You see, the concept of Christmas was actually opposed by early Christians because of its pagan roots. In fact, most of what we celebrate today actually has no root in the Bible, so it’s ridiculous that it has become offensive to say “Merry Christmas.” Anyway, before I go too far off on a tangent, here are the pagan origins of Christmas.
- The Beginning: In the year 312, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman Emperor. Prior to his conversion, though, Constantine believed in the Roman gods that we consider to be the object of myth. Because of his roots in paganism, it was difficult for him to let some of those practices go and thus incorporated them into Christianity. For example, for many early Christians, it was against doctrine to celebrate the birth of Jesus. When Constantine declared that Christians were to celebrate his birth anyway, many of them balked at the idea. However, in 350, Pope Julius I declared that Jesus’ birth was to be celebrated, and to be done so on December 25th.
- Why December 25th? Most scholars, both biblical and secular, agree that it is impossible for Jesus to have been born on December 25th based on the description from the Bible. For one, his cousin, John the Baptist was likely born in March, and he was six months older than Jesus, thus placing his birth in September. Furthermore, shepherds would not have been tending their flocks in the dead of winter. Regardless, the exact date of Jesus’ birth remains unknown. What is known, though, is that December 25th is around the same time as the Winter Solstice, which was the time of Saturnalia in ancient Rome. Saturnalia was a month-long hedonistic celebration in which the Romans celebrated their god of agriculture, Saturn. Thus, Pope Julius purposely incorporated the celebration of the birth of Jesus into the Roman festival of Saturnalia, in an effort to increase the popularity of Christianity among pagans.
- The Christmas Tree: The earliest Christian tradition of erecting a Christmas tree dates back to the 16th century in central Europe. However, many pagan cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice by worshipping evergreen trees, including the Druids, the Romans, and Scandinavians. In fact, the Roman Catholic church was opposed to the concept of Christmas trees as late as the 19th century.
- Yule: You’ve probably heard of terms such as “Yuletide” or the burning of the Yule log. Well, as you might have guessed, these have no basis in the Bible. Yule was actually celebrated by Germanic tribes around the time of the Roman Empire. As you might have guessed, the Yule celebration took place in late December and early January.
- Mistletoe: A parasitic plant, mistletoe attaches itself to a host tree and then grows from it, never touching the ground. This apparent ability to spontaneously generate on the bark of other trees made it revered among pagan cultures. Many cultures throughout the world held it in high esteem for its “magical” powers, including the ability to enhance fertility. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was began in pagan cultures and similar to the traditions above is never mentioned in the Bible and was once outlawed by the Catholic Church.
- Going out on a limb: In one segment of Zeitgeist: The Movie, the filmmakers explain that the entire Christian religion is based in paganism. If you can stomach the blasphemy, it does present a compelling argument about the birth of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, and the three wise men.
So there you have it. Christmas, like Easter, is steeped in Pagan tradition. Does that mean that you should throw off everything you know about the holiday for fear that you might go to hell? Of course not! As you can tell, Christmas is one of the most personal holidays in existence. There really are no rules for it, which is beautiful. So the next time you say Merry Christmas and someone gets offended because they aren’t Christian, remind them that Christmas isn’t either.