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2005-12-21
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Merry Religious Assimilation Day: The Pagan History of Christmas

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Nearly 4000 years past, ancient Egyptians celebrated the Winter Solstice by rejoicing in the sun god, Ra, for the coming increase in sunlight meant the fertile season approached. Honoring the sun god continued into Roman times with great feasting during Saturnalia, a week of festivities spanning the solstice week. The first recorded Christmas on December 25th took place in the 4th century, a date coinciding with the birthdate of Mithras, the Persian sun god. Pope Julius I is rumored to have adjusted Jesus’ birthday to match Mithras’ because the church was unable to stop the pagan celebrations and thereby could associate their festivities in Jesus’ name.

Other traditions owe their roots to non-Christian origin. Evergreen trees were revered by Druids for good luck and fertility because they withstood the hardships of winter. The tree became a religious symbol of everlasting life and was decorated to symbolize the sun’s power. In the 16th century, Christians began decorating the trees as means of redirecting tree worship. Yule logs were lit to remind the family of the sun’s coming and its ashes were used for protective powers. Mistletoe from oak was considered magical by Druids, who even carried out ritual sacrifice to release the aphrodisiac powers from the tree’s soul for fertility. Today’s decorative mistletoe is a variety found only in North America. Even the story of Santa Claus predates St. Nicholas to Norse legend as Hertha appearing in fireplaces to bring luck or Wodan who left gifts beneath the evergreen tree. The tale perverts through time to include the enslavement of an elf and a horned creature that visited children of ill behavior.

The pilgrims in New England, led by Governor William Bradford, attempted to penalize all pagan rituals associated Christmas celebration. Carols, tree decorations and gift exchange were perceived as heathen traditions marring the sacred date. In a twist of irony, removing the pagan celebration rites from Christmas renders the day moot as analysis seems to indicate the birth of Christ was more likely to have occurred in the summertime.

Merry Christmas – or perhaps more historically accurate, ‘Happy Holidays?’


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