Pagan elements were incorporated into Christmas traditions
In Part 1, I described some of the religious in-fighting that occurs around “ownership’ of the Christmas holiday, and the commercialism that drives the secular holiday as we know it. Today I explore the melding of Pagan and early Christian evangelism to create the modern holiday.
But Jesus was not even born in December, since the story involves shepherds being out in the open field with their flocks at night. December in Palestine is quite chilly and the sheep and shepherds, to this day, would be indoors at that time. The flocks were turned out to pasture in March and brought back in the beginning of November.
We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born; some say midsummer or perhaps September, but in any event the early Christians did not celebrate His birthday. “Christmas” did not even exist until about the fourth century A.D., when the Roman emperor Constantine established the celebration of Jesus’ birthday at the Winter Solstice which was on December 25, during the Roman holiday known as “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” which celebrated the return of light and life after the darkest day of the year. “Coincidentally,” December 25 was also the birthday of the solar deity Horus, son of Isis, the Queen of Heaven, and Mithras, also born of a virgin and also called “the Sun of Righteousness,” a title shared by Jesus. None of this was by mistake. The Emperor Constantine, a convert to Christianity, felt that it was in the best interest of Roman society that everybody could celebrate together. He sought to merge Christianity with the pagan traditions. Since Jesus was obviously an incarnation of the Dying and Reborn God, Sun of Righteousness and Son of Mary, the Queen of Heaven, it made perfect sense to celebrate Him along with the other solar deities at the Winter Solstice. The pagans in ancient Rome didn’t mind at all. Romans were very cosmopolitan and they were accustomed to learning new names for their gods and/or meeting new gods.
Meanwhile in ancient Europe they were also celebrating the Winter Solstice by bringing indoors holly, ivy, evergreen trees and mistletoe – sacred to Balder, another Dying and Reborn Sun God – and lighting candles and burning the Yule log to encourage the return of the Sun. The red berries of the holly also represent drops of Christ’s blood shed for the world. Later, Santa Claus joined the festivities as the Stag King amidst his reindeer. All of these pagan elements are central to Christmas celebrations today.
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