Christmas a Pagan Holiday Essay
Tis the Season to be Jolly, The Naive Christian Tradition 10. 05. 201 Large pockets of neighborhoods throughout the world anticipate the coming celebration for the birth of Christ. During the last month of the Gregorian calendar, followers of Christian faith gather with their families and church congregations to fellowship as a method of remembering the life of their savior, Jesus. The singing of carols, displaying of Christmas trees, and exchanging of gifts are traditions normally associated with the festive celebration.
Although many traditions seen today makes modern Christmas intriguing to Christians and Non-Christians alike, it is far from the European Pagan festivals it was derived from. In an effort to show possible elements that came to encompass this Christian holiday, one can look at the representation of the modifications each region has included to their Christmas celebration. This allows one to grasp how and why it still has a modern-day significance. Christian customs, specifically Christmas traditions have evolved over the years since the time of the European festivals that it was once molded after.
Most people have a vague impression that many of these traditions are pagan practices in nature, but few have an understanding of how come these customs became fused with the Christian belief. The subject matter is immense and is still in the ongoing process of understanding, but historians and religious scholars have conclusive ideas and have developed many more hypotheses. Many, if not all, of the traditions most Christian believers observe during the Christmas season began several hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Decorating of trees, exchanging of gifts, and community caroling are all practices that originated before Christ was born, but were later assimilated into the Christmas due to a variety of possibilities. Over 4000 years ago, the people of Mesopotamia celebrated each passing new years with a twelve day festival, called Zagmuth. The Mesopotamians, whom the majority were practicing pagans, held the festival Zagmuth in honor of their chief god, Marduk. The chief god was praised yearly for his heroism but was the evil beast of chaos at the beginning of each winter—as the pagan tale goes.
It is from this festival that the twelve days of Christmas is believed to be derived from. Similarly, the ancient Romans held a celebration each year in honor of their god of agriculture, Saturn. Saturnalia, the festival honoring the god of agriculture, began during the middle to late month of December. The festival of Saturnalia concluded on January 1st in correspondence with the Julian calendar, the calendar that was widely used during the time period. In January, the Pagan Romans observed the Kalends of January, which represented the feat of life over death.
This whole festive season including the winter solstice was named Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. As a portion of the celebration, ancient Romans elaborately decorated their homes as well hung candles on tree branches around the community. Garlands were placed as decoration throughout the villages, and were made of flowers and leaves. These ornaments were very contemporary in design in comparison to elaborate Tinsel garlands which can be seen on many modern Christmas trees. Throughout the festival, the citizens of Rome would visit one another’s homes and hold extravagant feasts.
Historians’ hypothesize the custom of giving Christmas gifts originated from the Roman practices of exchanging presents between family and neighbors during the festival of Saturnalia to bring good luck to the town or village. Another element aiding the tradition is of the Mummers, originated in ancient Rome. The Mummers were small groups of costumed singers and dancers who would travel from house to house amusing their audience during the festival to spread the celebration throughout the community. Evidently from the Mummers of Rome, the Christmas tradition of caroling was taken for the similar reasons.
Although many of these traditions help create an atmosphere for a cause of celebration, some early acts of the solstice celebration wasn’t such as merry as the modern day Christian twist. An early instance, Roman royalty selected “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule. ” Every Roman district selected a victim whom they forced to consume large amounts food, alcohol and perform sexual acts throughout the festival week. Upon the festival’s ending, December 25th, Roman royalty would murder the innocent man or woman, believing their form of sacrifice to the gods epresents the same defeat of the forces of darkness and death as the Unconquered Sun. Upon the rise of Christianity, many converts were opposed to letting go of all their Pagan festivals in traditions, which had been in their culture for hundreds of years. As a result, Christianity began to unofficially adopt Pagan practices of the festivals as a way to lure in converts from Paganism which was predominate religion belief across many cultures. However in 350, Pope Julius I issued a proclamation that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th each calendar year.
There is relatively no argument among historians that Pope Julius I acts were an attempt to make it easier for Romans practicing paganism (who were the majority at the time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion was a bit smoother adjustment for pagans, knowing that their beloved feasts would not be taken away from them. Prior to Pope Julius I decree, Constantine established Christ’s birthday celebration on December 25th because it was the beginning of the week of celebrations of the rites of Mithra, the sun god of Persia.
Wanting the celebration to overshadow the rest, he placed it at the beginning, which relatively is at the end of the pagan weeklong festival for the winter solstice. Although Christianity welcomed many converts after this, few in number were devoted believers of the faith. Constantine, almost three centuries after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, had a vision of “the sun superimposed with the cross of Christ, leading him to victory in battle”. He believed his vision portrayed the Christians as the protector of his empire and aid in his future conquest. As a result of his vision, Constantine declared the Edict of Milan in 313 A.
D. , which proclaimed religious tolerance throughout all the territories of his empire. This edict equality of all religions was significant because it did not leave out the Christian faith, which followers had been ostracized and persecuted for three centuries previously. Constantine’s devout beliefs in his vision lead him to become the first Roman Emperor to publicly convert to Christianity. Constantine is known today as a pioneer in Christianity conversion and a saint in many sects of Christianity because of the contributions he made for the development of the religion.
Although not as influential in advancing Christianity on paper, the infamous Santa Claus, or Nicholas bishop of Myra as he was known lived in the A. D. 300’s, grew to become a symbol of the Christian tradition today. Very little information is known about Nicholas, except that he gave many of his personal possessions and wealth to the poor children in his parish. Allegedly Nicholas was “sainted” because he brought two children back to life that had been viciously murdered. There is little evidence that substance this claim.
Upon his death ,supporters commemorated his kindness on December 6th, which coincided with an ancient Roman holiday at which time secret gifts were given. The addition of the commemoration of St. Nicholas on December 25th arose by the Catholic Church in another attempt to pull in more pagan converts to Christianity, primarily in Northern Europe whom practiced the commemoration. Christmas (Christ-Mass) as it is known today, began in Germany with the Catholic Church celebration.
Since Christmas incepted from paganism it has evolved with the changing of religious, cultural, and leadership by pulling desired ideals from the customs of those assimilated into Christianity. It is celebrated in the masses among Christian and non-Christian people because of the positive and playful atmosphere it has grown into. Modern Christmas as we know it, is an economic event because of the significance rise in commerce. Many Christian religious believers attest the message that modern Christmas displays is the true spirit of Christmas not that of its pagan birth.
The institutionalization by the different sects of Christianity helped Christmas transform many pagan customs to Christian traditions. By the year 432, the Christian holiday had stretch to Egypt; by the 6th Century, Christmas celebration had reached England. Christmas began spreading across the world as Christianity spread, picking up different customs and traditions until it became the holiday that we know today. Often forgot, the celebration of Christmas in December was strategically chosen to take focus from the other pagan festivals. BIBLIOGRAPHY Best, Ben. The History of Christmas. ttp://www. benbest. com/history/xmas. html. (accessed Sept 15, 2011) “Holidays Toys: Christmas Unwrapped,” The History Channel website, http://www. history. com/videos/holidays-toys-christmas-unwrapped (accessed Sep 19, 2011). Kertzer, David. The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism. New York: Knopf, 2001. Miles, Clement. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance. (New York: Dover Publications, 1976) 178, 263-271. Miles, Clement. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan. Wildside Press LLC, 2008. ttp://books. google. com/books? id=-kud5Vsv_dQC&lpg=PA5&ots=PK4P_Xz0SN&dq=pagan%20holidays%20christmas&lr&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q=pagan%20holidays%20christmas&f=false (accessed September 14, 2011). Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday. (New York: Vintage Books, 1997) 4. Philocalian calendar, a Roman document from 354 CE Wright, Addison, Roland Murphy, and Joseph Fitzmyer. “A History of Israel” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary. (Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pearson Education (US), 1990) 1247. ——————————————- [ 1 ]. Ben. The History of Christmas, http://www. benbest. com/history/xmas. html. (accessed Sept 15, 2011) [ 2 ]. Stephe Nissenbaum. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday. (New York: Vintage Books, 1997) 4 [ 3 ]. David Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (New York: Knopf, 2001), 23-40 [ 4 ]. “Holidays Toys: Christmas Unwrapped,” The History Channel website, http://www. history. com/videos/holidays-toys-christmas-unwrapped (accessed Sep 19, 2011).