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Home Variety Culture and History The Pagan roots of Christmas: From Jesus' date of birth to Christmas trees

The Pagan roots of Christmas: From Jesus’ date of birth to Christmas trees

In today's world, Christmas has very much become a secular festival and has very little to do with Christianity. It has more to do with food, celebrations and parties. It appears almost ironic in a certain way that a festival that gained supremacy over pagan ones by destroying native cultures is falling prey to the vices of modernity.

The world is gearing up to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December. There are many uncertainties surrounding the precise date of the birth of Jesus Christ but it’s now accepted as historical fact that he could not have been born on that specific date.

Biblical scholars have reached the conclusion after a careful study of the Bible that Jesus Christ could not have been born in Winter as the circumstances of his birth as described in the gospels do not depict a scene from Winter. Therefore, the actual date of Jesus’ birth, although cannot be verified by any historical means, is thought to be sometime between September and October.

The precise date of Jesus’ birth is not a central tenet of Christian theology and therefore, the debate surrounding it is more of an academic nature than a genuine controversy. In the Christian worldview, even if Jesus was not born on the 25th of December, he did ‘die’ for their sins and is the son of their God.

Since it’s quite evident that Jesus was not born on in December, it begs the question why was the date selected in the first place. That is due to its proximity to the Winter Solstice which happens to be on the 22nd of December. The Winter Solstice was an occasion for great festivities for Pagan cultures. There was a host of pagan festivities around that date, the most prominent being the Saturnalia.

Saturnalia is a Roman Festival that celebrated the birth of the God Saturn on the 17th of December in the Julian calendar and the festivities continued till the 23rd. The festival was marked by a carnival atmosphere, people exchanged gifts, a sacrifice was organized at the Temple of Saturn and there was a great deal of fanfare and partying.

Amusingly enough, there are a host of Gods who are believed to have been borne on the 25th of December. The Roman Emperor Aurelian consecrated the temple of Sol Invictus, creating a holiday called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the birthday of the Sun – on that very date. So, during the 4th Century, when Pope Julius 1 officially declared 25th December to be the date of Jesus’ birth, there were already two prominent pagan celebrations flourishing on the day.

Not merely the date of his birth, the story of Jesus’ virgin birth appears to have been borne from Pagan traditions as well. It has been a long-held tradition for humans to attribute miraculous circumstances signifying the birth of Gods. In Pagan traditions, Gods and Heroes have been borne under divine influences very often. In Hinduism, Karna and the Pandavas were fathered by Gods on mortal women. In the religion of Ancient Greece, Hercules was fathered by Zeus on a human. Perseus, the slayer of Medusa, is believed to be the son of Zeus as well. Achilles was the son of the immortal Nereid Thetis, and his father was the mortal Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons. Therefore, the idea of a God fathering a child on a mortal woman is a recurrent theme in religions and certainly not exclusive to Christianity.

The tradition of Christmas trees appears to have been borrowed from Pagan traditions as well. European pagans celebrated the winter solstice by decorating their homes with fir trees. The Romans used evergreens to decorate their Temples during Saturnalia. The ancient Egyptians used green palm rushes in their worship of the Sun God Ra. “The idea of bringing the evergreen into the house represents fertility and new life in the darkness of winter, which was much more of the pagan themes,” says Dr Dominique Wilson from the University of Sydney. “That’s also where the ideas of the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe come from because they’re the few flowering plants at winter so therefore they hold special significance. So the idea of bringing evergreens into the house started there and eventually that evolved into the Christmas tree.”

Therefore, the divine conception of Jesus appears to have been borrowed from Pagan traditions. The date of his birth, the 25th of December, is clearly borrowed from that of Pagan Gods as it’s an accepted fact that he could not have been born in December. The occasion for the celebrations as well has been borrowed from earlier Pagan festivals. Even the tradition of Christmas trees is borrowed from Pagan traditions. Thus, Christmas is little more than an appropriation of pagan festivities and faith. The reason for celebrating on the 25th of December is partly motivated by a desire to assert Christian supremacy over pagans. It was also motivated by the fact that converted pagans also clung on to certain aspects of their ancestral faith.

In today’s world, Christmas has very much become a secular festival and has very little to do with Christianity. It has more to do with food, celebrations and parties. It appears almost ironic in a certain way that a festival that gained supremacy over pagan ones by destroying native cultures is falling prey to the vices of modernity.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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