Progress and evolution are necessary to humanity’s betterment and it’s silly to fault any sentient species for abiding by the natural urge to advance in thought and practice. Additionally, it’s fair to admit that almost anything in its current form was originally influenced by something else prior. There is no harm in that whatsoever. The difference we have witnessed with Christianity though, is a violent and shameless theft of ideas, rituals and iconography. We have seen that instead of graciously integrating these forms of worship they have condemned the very people they plagiarized. It’s hard then not to see Pagans (used broadly here) as victims and Christians as thugs.
Of course, there are heaps of lovely and accepting Christians. But we are now in the 21st century and little has changed in that Christians are still trying to purge the world of ‘heathenisms’. Some say that nature was so vital to the people in ancient times that it’s all their little barbaric minds could conceive of being holy. To me, it only makes sense to pay respect to that which is directly giving you life. And the thought of pious, judgmental Christians practicing Pagan rituals on their ‘holy’ days all the while spitting rubbish at me about fire and brimstone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. So on this holiest of occasions, let us rejoice in knowledge and be keen on the truth: Christians stole Christmas from Pagans.
The entire reason for the season was of course based around nature. Saturnalia and Sol Invictus were both concurrent to the Winter Solstice. Even people of the church found themselves partying with the Pagans on these occasions. Everyone wanted to join in on the Saturnalia debauchery. This prompted the Church to provide an alternative festival in honor of the birth of Christ to co-exist with the current Roman celebration in an attempt to keep Christians away from ‘temptation’ and from slipping back into heathenism. This was merely a convenient way to try to Christianize the Pagan holiday.
One of the iconic characters connected to the Winter season is the most notorious man in red velvet, Santa. While he is most commonly thought to have derived from St. Nicholas, the generous Saint who gave to the needy, it would be most accurate to say that Santa as we know him is a conglomeration of several characters from much earlier on. The Dutch, Sinterklaas is an obvious inspiration, having a nearly identical legend to Santa, yet also revealing a dark side in which he commands his Zwarte Piets (elves) to punish naughty children with jute bags and willow canes. But we can trace this legend back even further still to Scandinavian countries that held Pagan beliefs. The Pagan god, Odin was known to ride on his fabled horse with 8 legs, Sleipnir with other gods on Yule, a German holiday around the same time as Christmas. At this time children would leave their shoes filled with treats such as hay for Sleipnir and when the horse would eat the food, Odin would replace it with candy and sweets. Odin was often described as a paunchy old man in a long dark cape and although he may have appeared less approachable than the jovial grandpa in velour we see today, he was delivering gifts to children long before Mr. Claus.
It is no secret that it’s common practice among Pagans to worship trees…they are a part of nature, after all. The pine tree specifically was admired as a symbol of strength, fortitude and immortality, qualities thought necessary for surviving long, harsh winters. Pine trees were a part of Winter worship for Pagans, but also represented the same values to several ancient cultures including the Egyptians and Chinese. Today we erect artificial copies, put haloed angels on top and call them Christmas trees. While Pagans and Druids would bring in branches and small pieces of the pine, they would allow the trees to remain rooted in the ground outside, decorate them with edibles such as fruits and nuts, left them to flourish and thrive during the festivities and more importantly, after the celebrations as well. Naturally.
To this day it is common practice to deck doors and windows with ornamental holiday wreaths at Christmas time. The wreath has been used as a symbol of power and strength since classical antiquity – the laurel wreath adorned the head of many Greek and Roman leaders as a crown because of its connotation. They also associated the wreath with their sun god and attributed the same qualities of vitality to this deity. Before this, harvest wreaths were used in rituals for good harvest and even predate written history. They were traditionally made from evergreen, boasting more symbolism classically linked to Winter celebration. The connection to Christianity aside from still being used as decoration in Christian house-holds, can be seen at funerals for saints and martyrs. A wreath will often be placed on the burial to symbolize ever-lasting life, holding the same meaning it does at Pagan solstice.
Another plant we see often this time of year that is dear to Pagans and druids, is mistletoe. This plant was being used in Winter festivities 200 years before the birth of Christ. It was revered for its ability to thrive and remain a vivid green in the brutal Winter months despite not having roots. Mistletoe was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it was said that in Roman times if two enemies met underneath the mistletoe, they were required to lay down their weapons. In Scandinavia they connected the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love which may be where showing affection beneath the mistletoe may have derived from. Happiness and good luck was promised to those who partook. Aside from holding important meaning, Mistletoe was used as an antidote for poison, infertility and to ward off evil spirits because it was thought to have magical healing powers.
In the end, my message is the same as any Christian would claim; I am preaching love, acceptance and understanding. If a person says Merry Christmas to me, I will happily say it back. What some Christians have lost along the way is the love, understanding and acceptance for those beliefs they claim oppose theirs. We are not in opposition. Coexistence should not be a Christmas miracle, it should be the norm, ever-lasting, like the pine tree.