Paganism In Christianity
Many aspects of traditional Christianity - holidays, practices and doctrines - came not from Christ or the Bible but from ancient pagan religion.
Where did those traditions and practices come from? Celebrated as Christian holidays, shouldn’t these occasions be faithful to what the Bible says?
The Druids in ancient France and Britain staged a 12-day festival at the time of the winter solstice. They believed it was the high point of an annual battle between an ice giant, representing death, and the sun god, representing life. They built large bonfires to cheer on and assist their champion, the sun. The Druids and other pagan leaders knew, as we do today, that the days always get longer as the calendar progresses through winter toward spring regardless of their seasonal rituals—but still they persisted in them (L.W. Cowie and John Selwyn Gummer, The Christian Calendar , 1974, p. 22). Unfortunately, so does much of Christianity today.
Christmas is the celebration of the time when the days start to lengthen, which in the Northern Hemisphere, is in the middle of winter. Many religions in history have claimed the winter solstice as a holy day. The "reason of the season" is a combination of different traditions. It includes sun worship and pagan nature religions who have venerated the natural cycle for many thousands of years. Many traditional elements of Christmas pre-date Christianity1. Nowadays it is laid upon by various Christian stories, and Christians even say, quite wrongly, that they invented Christmas. In combination with these religious sources is a heavy dose of commercialism - many "traditions" are in fact invented by commercial companies trying to find nifty ways of selling goods. A sensible and modern refrain is that Christmas is simply a secular midwinter holiday season; it is important to all families as one of the three holiday seasons in between children's school terms. Christmas is a multicultural festival with a long pagan history, and can be celebrated by anyone.
The Date of the 25th
he exact date of the Winter Solstice changes slowly over time. "So, although the solstice moved progressively from 6 January to 25 December, some traditions continued to celebrate it on the familiar night. Today it falls around 22 December"6. The Roman religion of Mithraism, which existed for hundreds of years before Christiansstarted celebrating Christmas, holds that the birth of Mithras was on the 25th of December. In another coincidence, the birth of Mithras was also said 'to have been witnessed by three shepherds'7.
2. The Commercial Takeover of Christmas
The most skeptical view of modern Christmas is that the fads, decorations, festive goods and all the paraphernalia are a commercial scam to make us spend money on over-priced useless goods. However true this is, it has also become a secular social festival much akin to the American thanksgiving. Families come together at Christmas even if they do not for the rest of the year. It probably helps that Christmas and New Year's celebrations have become institutionally intertwined. These make Christmas in essence a meaningful family celebration, even if on top of that there is a thick cover of shallow commercialism.
The festivities are largely led by commerce and retail outlets: The relevant decorations, cards, food and goods are all marketed for Christmas, and it is the High Streets that press Christmas upon the populace way before the populace itself is ready. It is a frequent complaint that stores start Christmas "too early" and too aggressively. Several elements of Christmas are the invention purely of commercial advertisements.
2.1. The Origin of Christmas Cards
Take the example of the commercial invention of the Christmas card; with corporate effort, these would have remained an expensive privilege of the rich.
“The Christmas card represented a convenient and sophisticated evolution of the ancient custom of giving blessings or good wishes for the New Year. By 1840 it was often carried on among the wealthier classes by sending a short poem engraved within an ornamental framework. [...] This, and some imitations, proved to be commercial failures because they were too expensive. In 1862, therefore, a fresh start was made by the stationers Messrs Charles Goodall, which printed cheap plain greetings. By the end of the decade they were becoming decorated, and other firms were producing them. [...] In 1878 the volume sent was sufficient for the Post Office to commence a separate record of Christmas mail, and in the 1890s the cards became a popular craze, and continued to expand their market over the next century. In 1992 1,560 million were sent, and the commercial value of the Christmas card trade was £250 million.”
2.2. Father Christmas, Santa Claus: The Personification of Christmas
The human figurehead of the festive season is a modern creation; before the seventeenth century such a figure has no history.
“Nobody seems to have thought of personifying Christmas until the early seventeenth century. It was done then partly because of the general taste of the age for allegory and partly because the criticism of observation of the feast by radical Protestants made a representation of it convenient to writers determined to defend it. Thus in 1616 Ben Jonson introduced to the world, Christmas His Masque, presented a figure 'in a round hose, long stockings, a close doublet, a high-crowned hat with a brooch, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little ruffs, white shoes, his scarfs, and garters tied cross.' [...] Over the next 250 years this sort of character was to feature repeatedly in pictures, stage plays, and folk-drama, known variously as Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas, or (increasingly) as Father Christmas. He was essentially concerned with the adult world, personifying feasting and games, he had no connection with presents, and he was not treated with much respect, being generally a burlesque figure of fun. Then Santa Claus turned up. In origins he was, of course, the medieval patron of children, St Nicholas, who remained a favourite popular figure amongst the Dutch.”
This figure gradually moved from St Nicholas Eve to Christmas Eve.
“In 1809 Washington Irving, whose sentimental interest in traditional Christmases has been mentioned, drew attention to the old tradition in his Knickerbocker's History of New York, rescheduling it from St Nicholas's Eve to Christmas Eve. Irving's portrait was repeated in an 1821 issue of the Children's Friend, published in the same city, and that may have been the direct inspiration to another New Yorker, Clement Clark Moore, to create the modern Santa. [...] His saint was not the traditional, sentimental, figure of the Dutch, but a magical sprit of the northern midwinter. He wore fur cloths, had a bushy white beard, traveled through the sky merrily in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, and came down chimneys with a sack of gifts. [...] Soon after 1863, he was frequently depicted wearing a red suit, trimmed with white fur.”
From 1931, Haddon Sundblom the illustrator for Coca Cola "drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964"10, which is where the tradition of a Santa Claus wearing red comes from. The colours red and green had always been prominent in Christmas card greetings, however.
2.3. Commercial Christmas
Prominent elements of Christmas are commercial inventions, from Father Christmas (and his suit) to Christmas Cards. The history of commercialist Christmas is older still than those creations. From the 1870s onwards, The Timesbroadsheet could be relied upon to attack the commercialism of Christmas11. Clearly, its commercialisation has not destroyed it and since the nineteenth century, it has become even more popular than ever.
To remove the commercial aspects of Christmas would be largely to destroy it; religious activists would create in its place a series of historically-challenged myths and break it into a sectarian event. Without commercialism the general populace, Protestant Christians, secularists and evangelical Christians would all cease to have anything in common during the festive season.
3. Christianity Versus Christmas
3.1. Christmas Was Always Largely Secular
Despite the nature-reveration, pagan festivals and sun-worship that formed the basis of the Christmas period, Christians sometimes complain that the 'original' Christian message is ignored at Christmas. Such modern Christians do not know its history. Christian Churches have themselves led long and bitter campaigns against the observance of Christmas and in various times and places banned it completely. The religious content was always very small, with most celebrations and rituals being secular (i.e., organized by the people, not by clerics). Major elements of Christmas are simply commercial inventions based on themes of nature, such as Christmas cards:
“From the beginning, the proportion of religious themes in [Christmas card] designs was small. Examples from before 1890 (of which the Jonathan King collection has 163,000) show an overwhelming concentration upon the natural world and upon jollity. [...] The choice of imagery has remained more or less constant ever since; an evocation of survival, rejoicing, and the resilience of nature, usually constructed around the (literally) vivacious colours red and green.”
Modern-day Christmas frequently contains modern Christian elements. Not least of all, in English, the word 'Christmas' is the one we are all familiar with, moreso than Yule or Winter Solstice. Nativity stories are taken from the Christian tradition - even though the ideas of shepherds, wise men and the like were all originally pagan, the stories are now told with Christian overtones at Christmas.
3.2. Early Christians Celebrated Christmas in April and May
44% of English children think Christmas is about Jesus12
“Mostly derived from pagan myths, Jesus' birth stories are very dubious, and it very likely that all such beliefs were written retrospectively by the Roman gospel writers, or were assumed from the outset. There is no evidence or reason to believe that they actually occurred.”
Christians of the first few centuries did not know for certain where Jesus was born, where he died, or where he was buried. This fact is bemoaned by early Christian leaders. When they did celebrate Christmas, they generally did so in April and May. "Pope Julius I, in the fourth century commanded a committee of bishops to establish the date of the nativity of Jesus. December 25 (the day of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun) was decided upon. Not coincidentally, that is the day when the "pagan world celebrated the birth of their Sun Gods -- Egyptian Osiris, Greek Apollo and Bacchus, Chaldean Adonis, Persian Mithra -- when the Zodiacal sign of Virgo (the sun is born of a virgin) rose on the horizon. Thus the ancient festival of the Winter Solstice, the pagan festival of the birth of the Sun, came to be adopted by the Christian Church as the nativity of Jesus, and was called Christmas"13. The reasons that the Christians annexed the Winter Solstice, and chose to celebrate Christmas in December instead of Spring, was that influential Roman religions celebrated the birth of the sun-of-the-sun on the Winter Solstice, and the first Christian emperor fused paganism and early Christianity, to create the Pauline Christianity that we know today14.
“This is what the LORD says: Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.
The pagan roots of Easter
And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Acts 12:4
In this passage, the King James translators mistranslated the Greek word pascha, which denotes the Passover. Thus, in Acts 12:4 the phrase after Easter should read “after the Passover” signifying the whole festival of Unleavened Bread. Peter was incarcerated throughout the entire festival with the intent of Herod (Agrippa) to bring him out for public trial after the Passover period had ended. (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II, p. 292).
The term “Easter” is not of Christian origin. In fact, it is another form of the word “Astarte,” one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess known as the queen of Heaven. The actual festival of Pasch held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast of Unleavened Bread — the Passover. This Pasch and the pagan festival of Easter were quite distinct, yet they were introduced into the apostate Western religion as part of the attempt to adapt pagan festivals to Christianity (this was not instituted by Christ). (VINE’S EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WORDS, pp. 344-345).
From Ishtar to Eostre, the roots of the resurrection story go deep. We should embrace the pagan symbolism of Easter.
aster is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is Egyptian Horus. Born on 25 December, Horus and his damaged eye became symbols of life and rebirth. Mithras was born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers celebrated the spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus, associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome. Dionysuswas a divine child, resurrected by his grandmother. Dionysus also brought his mum, Semele, back to life.
In an ironic twist, the Cybele cultflourished on today's Vatican Hill. Cybele's lover Attis, was born of a virgin, died and was reborn annually. This spring festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over the resurrection. There was violent conflict on Vatican Hill in the early days of Christianity between the Jesus worshippers and pagans who quarrelled over whose God was the true, and whose the imitation. What is interesting to note here is that in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity found lots of converts. So, eventually Christianity came to an accommodation with the pagan Spring festival. Although we see no celebration of Easter in the New Testament, early church fathers celebrated it, and today many churches are offering "sunrise services" at Easter – an obvious pagan solar celebration. The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead is governed by the phases of the moon – how pagan is that?
All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.
Easter is essentially a pagan festival which is celebrated with cards, gifts and novelty Easter products, because it's fun and the ancient symbolism still works. It's always struck me that the power of nature and the longer days are often most felt in modern towns and cities, where we set off to work without putting on our car headlights and when our alarm clock goes off in the mornings, the streetlights outside are not still on because of the darkness.
What better way to celebrate, than to bite the head off the bunny goddess, go to a "sunrise service", get yourself a sticky-footed fluffy chick and stick it on your TV, whilst helping yourself to a hefty slice of pagan simnel cake, HOT CROSS BUN OR EASTER BUN?
“The word Easter is of Saxon origin, Eastra, the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered about Passover time each year. By the eighth century Anglo–Saxons had adopted the name to designate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.” However, even among those who maintain that Easter has pagan roots, there is some disagreement over which pagan tradition the festival emerged from. Here we will explore some of those perspectives.
Resurrection as a symbol of rebirth
One theory that has been put forward is that the Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of rebirth and renewal and retells the cycle of the seasons, the death and return of the sun.
the Easter story comes from the Sumerian legend of Damuzi (Tammuz) and his wife Inanna (Ishtar), an epic myth called “The Descent of Inanna” found inscribed on cuneiform clay tablets dating back to 2100 BC. When Tammuz dies, Ishtar is grief–stricken and follows him to the underworld. In the underworld, she enters through seven gates, and her worldly attire is removed. "Naked and bowed low" she is judged, killed, and then hung on display. In her absence, the earth loses its fertility, crops cease to grow and animals stop reproducing. Unless something is done, all life on earth will end.