Republican Party

Christmas is a Pagan Holiday – Get Over it Already

It’s War on Christmas season again as Justin Baragona noted here the other day.

Read: Samuel Alito Is The Insurrectionist Threat To Democracy On The Supreme Court

Sarah Palin can complain about “Angry atheists” trying to “abort Christ from Christmas,” but it is Christians who aborted Odin from Jól (Yule) and renamed it Christmas. If you want to know the reason for the season, you don’t have to look back to Christ but past him.

Tim Wildmon is upset that “Not All Christians Believe There Is a ‘War on Christmas.'” He claimed yesterday in a column on Charisma News that, “The very word itself—Christmas—is a reminder that this particular holiday is the celebration of Jesus Christ. Those who promote political correctness and extreme multiculturalism resent this because it is exclusionary in their view.”

Wildmon goes on to demonstrate why my Heathen ancestors thought it best a man keep his mouth shut lest he expose his ignorance:

Christmas is the exaltation of one particular religion that makes a claim of being the only true religion, and that is unacceptable to the movers and shakers of contemporary American popular culture, elitist academia and many in the mainstream media, news and entertainment.

Leftists…he must mean the radically liberal U.S. Constitution which cares not a whit for Christian claims but mandates that before the law, all religions are equal.

And it is not just public figures who repeat this nonsense. Have you ever had one of those irritating discussions with a friend or family member who insists that if you’re not going to celebrate Christmas, you should get rid of your Christmas tree and not exchange presents (because Jesus really wanted you to exchange presents on his birthday)?

Except that the “Christmas” tree is actually a Pagan tree. And unsurprisingly, “Tree worship” is an old sin. The Bible says “God don’t play dat.” It’s no surprise that Asherah, divorced (and banished from historical memory) wife of YHWH, was represented by trees. She must be laughing somewhere.

The Puritans the Religious Right pretends to admire so much recognized that decorating a tree from a Pagan gesture. Why cannot the Religious Right? After all, the Puritans also liked to persecute the helheim out of their neighbors for having different beliefs.

Except that not only is Christ not the reason for the season, the trappings themselves are Pagan in their entirety. As I pointed out here last year,

The ancient Heathens used to “worship” trees not because they symbolized a particular god (though trees, like rainbows, could connect this world to the “upper” world) but because they were symbolic of growth and life, and evergreen trees, which did not wilt and die in the winter, seemed to continue to live miraculously. The Heathens brought offering to the trees – fruit and candles, “dressing” the tree in a manner similar to how classical Mediterranean Pagans decorated the statues of their gods. But this Heathen practice was done in honor of Odin, whose time this was with his Wild Hunt through the skies.

The Wild Hunt by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892)

Nor has the tree always been a part of the Christian Christmas. I found out last year at that,

In 1851, Pastor Henry Schwan of Cleveland OH appears to have been the person responsible for decorating the first Christmas tree in an American church. His parishioners condemned the idea as a Pagan practice; some even threatened the pastor with harm.

Wow. All the way back to 1851? Really? That’s some Christmas tradition!

Along with those Heathen trees, we mustn’t forget burning and highly Heathen Yule logs and Heathen Yule-singing, Heathen holly, Heathen mistletoe, and, especially, Heathen wassailing. Yes, when you wassail, you are participating in the ancient drink-sacrifice.

Don’t forget Santa: a Pagan god, Odin, and his eight-legged horse Sleipnir (eight reindeer anyone?), turned into a Christian Saint. Who better to preside over a Pagan-turned-Christian holiday than a Christianized Pagan God.

You have to wonder if the doctrine on display here is sound. Christian conservatives hate on trees – have always hated on trees and the deep, dark, Pagan forests. Their religion says trees are bad. But they can stick a cross on it and like slapping a Sainthood on Odin, it’s okay?

I would say that as a Heathen, I have more right to a tree this time of year than anyone, since it was from my ancestors Christians stole the practice – along with the season itself.

But what is worse is that all this fuss is for a day that is not even Jesus’ birthday. It’s the birthday of various Pagan gods but it is NOT Jesus’ birthday. Not only is it not Jesus’ birthday – nobody knew when Jesus was really born, and for a long time, nobody cared – early Christians, once they finally got around to caring, did not think it was Jesus’ birthday.

One noted Christian author, Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 1.21; 145.6; 1146.4), even went so far as to say curiosity about the date of Jesus’ birth was “gratuitous curiosity.” When possible dates were mentioned, they most certainly did not include December 25th. Instead, we find mention of March 28, April 2 or 20. [1]

Once arrived at, December 25th received only grudging and scattered acceptance, mostly in the West, with the East resisting (December 25 is still meaningless in Armenia). In 350, Pope Julius I ordered Christmas to be celebrated on December 25. Christmas arrived on December 25th in Constantinople in 380 and it’s not until 386 that we find John Chrysostom, in Antioch, ordering Christmas to be celebrated by the Christian community there on December 25. December 25 did not come to Alexandria until 432. The Church of Jerusalem stubbornly refused to celebrate that date until the seventh century! Not only was December 25th not originally Jesus’ birthday, but when it was declared so, nobody wanted it.

You would never know that to listen to Sarah Palin. But that is likely because Sarah Palin does not know it herself, or even care to know it. Facts get in the way of a perfectly good narrative.

January 6th was the date on Christmas was originally celebrated. Epiphanius (ca 310-403), tells us so (Pan. LI.22.3-7 and 29.4-7). On around 428 CE John Cassianus (Collationes X.2) reported that Epiphany in Egypt is ‘by ancient tradition’ believed to be the time for both the baptism and the birth of Jesus.”[2] As it happens, January 6th is still Christmas Day in the Orthodox Church.

We have the testimony of Dionysius Bar-Salibi, twelfth century bishop of Amida, for example:

The reason, then, why the fathers of the church moved the January 6th celebration [of Epiphany] to December 25th was this, they say: it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate on this same December 25th the birthday of the Sun, and they lit lights then to exalt the day, and invited and admitted the Christian to these rites. When, therefore, the teachers of the church saw that Christians inclined to this custom, figuring out a strategy, they set the celebration of the true Sunrise on this day, and ordered Epiphany to be celebrated on January 6th; and this usage they maintain to the present day along with the lighting of the lights.

As Ramsay MacMullen remarks, “By similar inventions other popular pagan celebrations were directly confronted with a Christian challenge.” [4]

Martin of Braga, author of De Correctione Rusticorum (literally, On the Castigation of Country-dwellers – the title says it all) rants about people celebrating Pagan holidays as Pagans. His solution? He makes a call for the replacement of pagan practices with Christian ones. The bishop of Javols in about the year 500 also made use of this tactic, “the transference of ritual from one religious loyalty to another” in the words of one scholar. The greatest example we know of is that of Pope Gregory, who made normative inversion official church policy in a letter sent to England (then sliding back into Paganism) in 601. Just as holy places – lakes in particular, but also temples, could be captured, so could holy days. Christmas is the greatest of these captured days.

And I won’t even mention the Virgin Birth – okay, I will: Jarl Fossum argues that the idea of virgin birth might have arrived in Alexandria in advance of Christianity.[5]

Oh dear.

[Note: This post contains material from previous Jól-tide posts]

Image by Hrafnkell Haraldsson


[1] Friedrich Solmsen, “George A. Wells on Christmas in Early New Testament Criticism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 31 (1970), 278.

[2] Glen Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (University of Michigan Press, 1996). The bishop is referring to the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or “the birthday of the unconquered sun,” which is the birthday of Mithras, whose worship was, at one time, more widespread than that of Jesus.

[3] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (Yale University Press, 1997), 155, quoting from the Latin of G.S. Assemani, Bibliotheca orientalis Clementino-Vaticanae 2 (Rome 1721), 164.

[4] Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion. From Paganism to Christianity (University of California Press, 1997), 49, 53-54, 254. By the way, January 5/6 was observed as the date of the epiphany of Dionysus, none other than Aion himself. In Orphic circles, Phanes, the god emerging from the cosmic egg, was seen as the new Aion, who was reborn every year in a continuing cycle. Both Osiris and Adonis were also equated with Aion. Aion as Eternity exists in Stoic, Aristotelian and Platonic thought.

[5] Jarl Fossum, “The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth: Critical Notes on G. W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity,” Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999), 305-315.

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