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Enough!  If I read about or hear another benighted teabagger-type grousing about "Christ being the reason for the season," I'm going to blow a gasket!  So just treat this as my primal howl against the falsification of the Western Tradition.

One of the most fascinating aspects about pagan antiquity in the West remains its enduring legacy for our modern civilization. Some areas of influence, most notably the political legacy of Roman Law and the Roman “Constitution” which so influenced the Founders of our republic, are well known.

Others are less widely recognized, especially in the realm of religion, where all of the Abrahamic religions, especially Islam and Christianity, have preserved or consciously adopted entire festivals, rituals, and iconographies from the Pagan cultures they ultimately supplanted by force.

“‘Tis the Season,” so let’s look at that “most Christian” of holidays, Christmas. Many will be shocked to learn that Christmas is almost entirely Pagan in its accoutrements, rituals, and ideology. Before Christianity established itself as the official religion of the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th Century CE, people had an almost bewildering choice of religious experiences, from the established worship of the 12 Olympians, to more local deities, to Emperor worship. But most influential were the so-called mystery cults surrounding Demeter, Dionysos, Isis, Adonis, and the Persian Mithras, associated with the Sun, son of the Great Virgin Goddess Astarte.

The birth of Mithras was celebrated on the 25th of December, which on the Julian calendar was reckoned as the winter solstice. The ritual will be familiar - celebrants gathered within the temple holding candles near midnight on the 24th - at midnight, from within the lighted sanctuary a collective voice rang out - “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!”

Now originally the ancient Christians celebrated their Nativity on the sixth of January, but in the Western Empire by the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century CE, the Church established the 25th as the Nativity - why? Luckily we don’t have to guess; an ancient Syrian Christian tells us: “The reason the fathers transferred the celebration of the 6th of January to the 25th of December was this: it was a custom of the heathen to celebrate, on the same 25th of December, the nativity of the Sun (i.e. Mithras), at which they kindled lights…In these solemnities Christians took part. Therefore, when the teachers of the Church learned that Christians had a leaning to the festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on the 25th and that Epiphany should be celebrated on the 6th.”

So, the origins of the ecclesiastical season of Christmas are revealed to be part of a appropriation of a popular Pagan festival.

Other “Christmas” customs, e.g. giving gifts, derive not from the Christian mythology of the 3 kings, but from the Roman festival of Saturn, Saturnalia, which featured the giving of gifts, special shopping, and “good will toward all” even slaves, who were treated as equals during the festival, from the 17th to the 23rd of December. The modern English tradition of wearing paper hats on Christmas probably derives from the Saturnalia custom of everyone wearing the cap of a freedman in token of their seasonally recognized human brotherhood.

More could be said - the yule log, Evergreen wreaths, the Christmas tree, etc. all derive from Northern European pagan winter solstice traditions that joyously recognized the promise of continued life and light, even in the depths of winter’s darkest, deadly chill.  

Christmas is not alone among supposedly unimpeachably Christian festivals which are actually blatant usurpations of Pagan festivals.  The other Christian biggie, Easter, in its timing, ritual, and trappings clearly derives from the festival of Adonis, Aphrodite's lover who died and was resurrected...but that is another primal howl altogether.

Anyone interested in further reading along these lines should take up Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough, to which I am indebted for much of my knowledge on this subject.

Originally posted to Paganus on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:38 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If Christmas is so pagan, why (3+ / 0-)

    do we celebrate with flying spaghetti?

    But watch out with Frazer's Golden Bough - he got a lot of stuff flat-out wrong, and we've learned a great deal in the last century.

    "Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation." - Barack Obama

    by Bob Love on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:45:24 AM PST

  •  So What? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ed G

    So, the origins of the ecclesiastical season of Christmas are revealed to be part of a appropriation of a popular Pagan festival.

    Christmas is what we make of it and Christ IS the reason for the season. I think you need to sit through another viewing of Charlie Brown's Christmas.

    90% of everything is crud - Sturgeon
    90% of blogger time is narcissistic dicking around - grannyhelen

    by 1918 on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:48:36 AM PST

  •  Fah who for-aze! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1918, arkylib, Dar Nirron, husl piper 11

    The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
    Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
    It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.
    It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
    But I think that the most likely reason of all
    May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

    Strong Media, Strong Democracy - Corporate Media, Corporate Democracy

    by LibrErica on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:49:03 AM PST

  •  Actually, (4+ / 0-)

    I think Catholics make more of a big deal out of Easter than they do Christmas. Sure, we have the 4 weeks advent, but Lent is 2 weeks longer. So I would have to say that Easter is the most Christian of holidays, not Christmas, but that's just my opinion.

    I'm not a slacker...I'm just surrounded by overachievers!

    by arkylib on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:49:40 AM PST

  •  The "most Christian" holiday(s) (5+ / 0-)

    would have to be Holy Week:  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.  

    As important as the Incarnation is, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are the core pieces of the story of Redemption.

    (Friendly lesson from Christian apologist.*)

    *apologist, noun--a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc.

    To say that my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

    by Dar Nirron on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:50:30 AM PST

  •  Of course the church co-opted existing rituals (3+ / 0-)

    and celebrations.  Just like Willy Sutton robbed banks "because that's where the money is".

  •  there is nothing false about Christmas (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dar Nirron, husl piper 11

    You speak the truth, Paganus, about the symbols and traditions associated with Christmas. The wreaths, the trees, the date, the trappings.

    Sadly, that ends up being Christmas for many.

    This past week I took some time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ -- how God humbled himself to appear as a child -- how the first people to hear about this news were the shepherds -- the lowest, outcasts in society at the time.

    For me, Christmas is about news of great joy for all people. News that has touched my life in so many ways.  

    The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me' MT 25:40

    by Ed G on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:57:18 AM PST

  •  You should realize (3+ / 0-)

    that Christ IS the reason for the season - for Christians (regardless of how the date for the holiday was chosen).  Just as the right needs to realize that Christ is NOT the reason for non-Christians.

    I just wish we could come to a happy balance between the two groups.  Why does it have to be either/or?

    "Out, out, you demons of stupidity!" ~ Dogbert

    by husl piper 11 on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:59:27 AM PST

    •  Because of all the a-holes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      out there that scowl at me for wishing them "Happy Holidays".

      "As God is my witness, I thought wingnuts could fly."

      by Niniane on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:35:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your statement would be more accurate... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...if it read "You should realize that Christ IS SUPPOSED TO BE the reason for the season for Christians, but instead the massive majority of them make it about shopping, fighting, ignoring those in need, and turning their kids into greedy little fuckers."

      Christians can start crying about Atheists/Muslims/Jews not making the holiday about Christ when they learn how to do it themselves.  That doesn't seem to be asking to much, to me.

      •  I'll give you that (0+ / 0-)

        and raise you making EVERYONE quit being greedy, shopping, fighting assholes from Black Friday to Christmas Eve (this timeframe being the very least I'll accept).

        This from a person who does her Christmas shopping early so she doesn't have to deal with these people.

        Oh, and that reminds me to thank people here for the awesome idea last year to donate to Heifer International on behalf of my giftees.  It was fun giving bees and ducks to people less fortunate, though I wish I could have afforded to give a goat!

        "Out, out, you demons of stupidity!" ~ Dogbert

        by husl piper 11 on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:55:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Jimmy! (0+ / 0-)

        Amazing; I think this is the first time I've ever agreed with you! ;)

        Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

        by JDsg on Wed Dec 16, 2009 at 07:41:56 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Hey, don't leave out Zagmuk! (4+ / 0-)

    Marduk is the reason for the season.  Which was an even better holiday:  

    Zagmuk is a Mesopotamian festival celebrated around the winter solstice, which literally means "beginning of the year". It celebrates the triumph of Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon, over the forces of chaos, symbolized in later times by Tiamet. The battle between Marduk and chaos lasts 12 days, as does the festival of Zagmuk.

    On the first day of Zagmuk, the High Priestess gave to me...

    Lieberman > the entire Democratic party. Evil always wins.

    by The Dead Man on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:06:09 AM PST

    •  I did not know that. Thanks. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      Iowa - where stuff grows and everyone who wants to can get married

      by Prairie D on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:22:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "On the first day of Zagmuk, the High Priestess.. (0+ / 0-)

      ...gave to me the Mes.
      So, on the second day of Zagmuk,
      I turned Sinai into a desert with them,
      aka ka-blewie...silent night,
      and proceeded to take the reins of power
      from my quivering relatives.
      Tra la la, holy holy holy,
      now I'm the only god almighty,
      all the rest serving at my pleasure."


      Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

      by Riddlebaugh on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:59:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A Tilted Earth - the Reason for the Season (4+ / 0-)

    The game is deemed more above the law than the players. -8.25, -6.25

    by smellybeast on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:07:59 AM PST

  •  OK, my take on the great winter holiday is that (3+ / 0-)

    it is essentially mankind's way of self-medicating for seasonal affective disorder.  A traditional festival of fires and light during the darkest and coldest part of the year probably predated any formalized pagan festival even.  It is a way to mark the progress of the seasons with hopefulness.  Humans like rituals, especially old rituals, so later cultures continued to use old customs while putting their own stamp on it.  Therefore, I say that Christmas is as much Christian as it is pagan.

    Iowa - where stuff grows and everyone who wants to can get married

    by Prairie D on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:32:17 AM PST

    •  Agreed. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dar Nirron, Prairie D

      I find myself craving the comforts of warmth and community more around this time of year than any other.  I celebrate but it has very little to do with religion for me.

      My traditional activity for the end of the year has been to take a few friends to the California Revels.  The Revels play in cities around the country and I highly recommend going for a nice blend of pagan/Christian community celebration.

      The game is deemed more above the law than the players. -8.25, -6.25

      by smellybeast on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:56:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This Diary should be filed under (0+ / 0-)

    The so-fucking-what section of dailykos.

  •  You make some interesting points (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JDsg, Dar Nirron, Riddlebaugh, Prairie D

    but historically speaking, the real Jesus (the possible real life guy that the mythology grew up around) was not born in mid-winter. Shepards don't have sheep out at night in December. Probably closer to Spring or Summer. Also the closest known astronomical phenomenon to the 'star of Bethlehem' would have been a supernova somewhere between 4 and 7 B.C. Also the Magi were probably Zoroastrian priests. The Zoroastrians had Messianic theology 1000 years before Christ. The Jews may have picked it up during the Babylonian captivity.  

  •  Satirically speaking: MONEY, etc. (0+ / 0-)

    White Man's Only Katsina

    Ah, yes,
    a merry commercial christian celebration it is,
    once again,
    as people from around the world
    reaffirm their love of material focus,
    with the help of White man's only katsina,
    who, with a ho-ho-ho,
    guides the awareness of the masses
    into another multi-media proclomation
    from the holy of holies,
    in chambers of commerce everywhere,
    that says all should
    buy now, and
    pray later.

    Every year at this time
    there are tens of thousands of those Katsinas
    doing their part as they do
    St. Nick's Sacred Three Step Cha Cha.
    Each year each step of the Sacred Cha Cha
    is charged with increasing
    and more prolonged repetition,
    to assure the unknowing new youth
    get the message,
    and so those who are less innocent
    do not forget it.

    The dance goes:
    Step one; standing on street corners,
    and in front of the bigger business establishments
    begging with bells.
    Step two; sitting in shopping malls,
    and other public places,
    openly squeezing little children,
    who are posing for pictures
    on Santa's lap, and
    who are having their fantasies fed
    that matter will make it all better.
    Step three; breaking and entering
    in the night season
    into everyone's house
    through their place of fire,
    to give them material things,
    eat any unattended food,
    and tryst with the matriarch.

    The time of the Sacred Cha Cha
    is celebrated with many songs
    that signify the time
    of the least light
    is the time
    of the most goodness.

    Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

    by Riddlebaugh on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:51:39 AM PST

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