Christmas a Pagan Holiday

Topics: Christmas, Roman Empire, Christianity Pages: 6 (1719 words) Published: May 8, 2013
'Tis the Season to be Jolly,
The Naive Christian Tradition

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...

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Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday. (New York: Vintage Books, 1997) 4.
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