START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

5 Ways Christmas and Hanukkah Co-Opted Paganism

5 Ways Christmas and Hanukkah Co-Opted Paganism

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Favorite. It was originally published on December 11, 2012. Enjoy!

My favorite church in Italy is a beauty called the Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva, or “Mary on Top of Minerva.” Around 1280 Christians built the church right on top of the site of a temple to Minerva, the pagan goddess of wisdom, medicine — and war. (Important note: Professor Minerva McGonagall of Hogwarts is the goddess’s namesake.)

Maria sopra Minerva illustrates the way religious traditions evolve, taking from other traditions what they like, and also what they need to draw in the followers of those traditions.

You won’t find Christmas trees or Santa Claus in the New Testament — they and other Christmas customs evolved over time, sometimes passively influenced by pagan traditions, and sometimes deliberately co-opting and replacing those traditions. Many other Christmas traditions may come from rituals surrounding the winter solstice, which marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.Enough Christmas traditions arise from the solstice and other pagan sources that some Christian sects have banned the holiday over the years. Some examples of the interplay between solstice and Christmas — and, even earlier, Hannukah:

1. Many believe that Christmas is celebrated on December 25th to muddy the focus of the solstice’s celebration of the sun god, which fell on the same date on the Julian calendar. (In modern times the solstice takes place within a few days of Christmas.) Pagans and Christians would observe similar traditions, making it easy to transition from worshiping pagan forces to venerating Jesus and the Christian God.

2. The cold, dark and death that prevail during the solstice season convinced some people that a screen between our world and one of evil spirits was thinner or more porous at this time of year. Many observances were meant to protect against the bad spirits. “The Holiday Bells, or jingle bells were-are used to drive evil spirits away.” The same goes for mistletoe, which guarded against evil when hung in a doorway.

3. There are competing versions of the history of Christmas trees. One is that they originated in Germany in the 1500s. Another is that they began with paganism. ”Many Pagan cultures” would cut evergreen boughs or other plants (like mistletoe) that were still green and use them to decorate their homes or temples around solstice. At a time of year when the plants were dying and sunshine was in short supply, green vegetation was a reminder that both would return.

4. The Yule log may be the current manifestation of the “Juul” log that pagans burned on the solstice to honor the sun, which was about to start hanging around longer each day. “Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.” Christians changed the symbolism: ”the fire came to represent the light of the Savior instead of the light of the Sun.”

5. Like the Christians absorbed solstice by setting Christmas at the same time, much earlier in history Jews may have used Hanukkah the same way. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the ancient Jews’ rededication of their Temple after the Syrian Greeks occupied and defiled it. The Jews may have been “capturing a pagan solstice festival that had won wide support among partially [paganized] Jews, in order to make it a day of God’s victory over paganism. Even the lighting of candles for Hanukkah fits the context of the surrounding torchlight honors for the sun.”

Religions and holidays evolve over time, but it is interesting how certain elements of an observance — like fire and green vegetation in the winter — can stay the same for thousands of years.

 

Related Stories:

Eco-Parenting and Winter Solstice Traditions

Happy Easter! 4 Traditional Ways to Celebrate

5 Ways to Celebrate the Summer Solstice 2012

 

Read more: , , , , , ,

Photo credit: iStockphoto

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

460 comments

+ add your own
5:26AM PST on Feb 18, 2015

Thanks for sharing

4:45AM PST on Jan 27, 2015

I agree with Sheelagh O. This writer needs to do much more research!

9:56AM PST on Dec 31, 2014

I think Piper need to further his studies and get all perspectives. I find it truly amazing that he thinks Chanukah was borrowed from pagans. Obviously he did not bother to study but rather regurgitate bits and pieces he may have heard.

3:42AM PST on Dec 31, 2014

Thanks

12:18PM PST on Dec 30, 2014

Thanks

7:44AM PST on Dec 30, 2014

Belated thanks to David H. (December 28, 2013) for giving me the best chuckle of the day in referring to the "shroud of Tehran"! (presume he meant "Turin")

2:07PM PST on Dec 29, 2014

noted

10:44AM PST on Dec 29, 2014

Interesting. Thanks.

6:25PM PST on Dec 28, 2014

What fascinates me when I think of times thousands of years ago, is that all influences and news travelled far and wide and across seas. We believe we are so connected in the computer age, but there are many people I have met in Canada who have never thought of travelling, even within their own country.
This is unlike the people of ancient times when travel was not as easy as it is today. I marvel at their ability to cross oceans, withstand stormy seas and inhospitable climates to move from country to country.

5:09AM PST on Dec 28, 2014

Good point, Rachael: Merry everything!

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free
CONTACT THE EDITORS

Recent Comments from Causes

My dear Dog Brandy was not big on barking a lot.If she saw something she didn't like of course she barked.My…

ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.