If you don’t understand the irony of this picture, read on to find out.
For a long time now, many Christians have argued that we have strayed away from the true meaning of Christmas. “We need to put the Christ back in Christmas,” they say. But the traditions that have become an integral part of this holiday have far more pagan roots.
What many early Christians knew was that converting pagans to Christianity would be more effective if people were allowed to keep their meaningful traditions. According to the Christian Post: “Scholars attribute the usage of pagan celebratory aspects to Christianity's spread throughout Europe and the Roman Empire. Christian missionaries sought to convert non-Christian populations and were willing to adapt certain festive attributes to their own observances.” That is why we can trace Christmas traditions back to the pagan celebration of Yule.
This year, Yule will last from December 21 to January 1. Using simple addition, that adds up to twelve days. Ringing any bells? Yes, this is the origin for the “twelve days of Christmas.” The first Yule festivals were held by the Germanic peoples over the course of twelve days. They honored the Celtic horned god Cernunnos with ceremonies, holding reindeer antlers up to their heads in dance. The creation of Santa’s reindeer can indeed be traced back to the horned god. But why eight? Eight reindeer pull the sleigh as symbols of the eight solar sabbats, which make up the Wheel of the Year.
The idea of Santa is strikingly similar to a popular pagan myth and legend about the Norse god, Odin. It was believed that Odin led a great hunting party through the skies in celebration during Yuletide. In anticipation of his return from the hunt, children would fill their boots with straw and leave them by the fireplace. In the morning, they would awake to find gifts and candy from Odin.
Not only are the myths of Santa and his reindeer pagan, but so is the tradition of putting up a tree and decorating it. It is hard to imagine Christmas without a beautiful tree bringing that official holiday scent into the home, the one that no store-made candle could ever duplicate precisely. Colors from the twinkle lights wrapped around the tree reflect on the walls of the living room. Heirloom ornaments are nestled close to the trunk, and each branch is adorned with silver tinsel. But long before Christians adopted the Christmas tree, pagans started the tradition of the Yule tree. Each year during Yuletide, an evergreen tree would be brought into the home, and branches from the tree would be pinned to the door. Pagans worshipped evergreen trees because they remain green all year long, as symbols of the promise of spring. People would decorate the trees, hanging bells as well as treats for spirits to eat on the branches. The bells were said to chime when a satisfied and appreciative spirit was present. And at the very top of the tree was placed a five-pointed star, a pentagon. Each point of the pentagon represented one of the five elements: earth, water, air, fire, and spirit.
The tradition of caroling also came from the pagans. The first carols were sung thousands of years ago during Yuletide celebrations, as people were singing and dancing with their reindeer antlers. The word “carol” actually means “kind of dance in a ring, round dance accompanied by singers.” When early Christians took over many traditions from Yule, however, they also adopted this festivity. Soon after, Christians everywhere began writing and sharing what they now call “Christmas carols.” Now, the phrase “troll the ancient Yuletide carol” from the popular carol, “Deck the Halls,” makes perfect sense.
As we venture to find the perfect *Yule* tree this year, we might remind ourselves that it was non-Christian traditions that inspired many of the well-known and well-loved customs of Christmas.