"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
In Worship of Pagan Gods
Someone recently said that he wished people would get back to the true meaning of Christmas. I wondered if he really believed this, because the 'true meaning' of Christmas is rooted in Pagan beliefs. Christmas, as well as Easter and Halloween, are Pagan holidays. If we were to get back to the real meaning of these holidays, we would be worshiping Pagan gods. I wonder if most religious people are aware of this?
Halloween is a celebration of hallowed souls on All Saints Day, which is on November 1st, hence the term 'Halloween.' Halloween is short for 'the eve before All Hallows' Day,' referring to saints who were 'hallowed' spirits. Trying to extinguish the lingering Pagan influence in Europe , the Christian church decided All Saints' Day should fall on November 1st to make it correspond with the traditional Celtic Pagan Festival of the Harvest.
Some people showed more interest in honoring their dead ancestors than in honoring dead saints. To try to curb this un-Christian tradition, the Church instituted another holiday known as All Souls' Day, held on November 2nd. Christians were encouraged to pray for souls in purgatory on All Souls' Day. Prior to that, Pagans celebrated Samhain (celebration of the New Year's Day for the Pagan Celts). Since the year was divided into only two seasons, Samhain celebrated the end of summer.
Why is Christmas on the 25th of December? The origins of Christmas lie in the Pagan festival of the son of Isis , which took place on December 25th. Partying, drinking and gift giving were traditions of this feast in ancient Babylon . There is evidence to suggest that if such a person as Jesus existed, he would have not been born in December, but sometime in September or October.
Christmas coincides with the winter Solstice (Saturnalia), which honors the God of Agriculture--Saturn. This celebration existed many, many years before the 'birth of Christ.' In January they observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival season is marked by much merrymaking. The tradition of Mummers was born in ancient Rome . The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who would travel from house to house entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born.
In northern Europe , many of the traditions that are considered part of the Christian worship were begun long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The Pagans of northern Europe celebrated their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the Pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.
Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule means 'wheel,' the wheel being a Pagan symbol for the sun. Mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Holly berries were thought to be a food of the gods.
The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all of the northern European winter solstices. It was customary for live evergreen trees to be brought into the homes as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were often carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.
In the year 350, Pope Julius I declared that 'Christ's birth' would be celebrated on December 25th. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it easy for Pagan Romans (who were the majority at the time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion was a bit easier to swallow, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.
Christmas (Christ-Mass) as it is known today, began in Germany , although Catholics and Lutherans disagree about which church celebrated it first. Not that this is surprising, as they rarely agree on anything. The earliest record of an evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany .
Easter also has Pagan roots. The name Easter is the English derivation of the name Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love and fertility. As with all mythology, there is always a correlation between the myths of the different cultures. In the Teutonic myth, the goddess is known as Ostern. The Phoenician name for this goddess is Asterte. The Europeans know this story as the resurrection of Christ.
The link between all of these myths is the concept of death, the underworld, resurrection and fertility. One part of the Ishtar myth describes how Ishtar descends into the underworld and is killed (crucified) there. As a result of Ishtar's death, the earth became infertile and neither birds, beasts nor humans mated. As the story continues, she was resurrected (sound familiar?) through magic incantations. Remember, this story emerged hundreds or even thousands of years before 'Christ.'
Uruk was Ishtar's holy city and was called 'the town of the sacred courtesans.' She protected prostitutes there. Is it any coincidence that in the story of Christ, Mary Magdalene was his good friend and a prostitute, and was the first on the scene of the resurrection? Mythology is there to reveal themes in this case, death, rebirth and fertility is the main theme. Christ, like Ishtar, was represented as God, who died into the underworld or tomb of earth, and was later resurrected by some miraculous power. It also describes the seasons of the year where there is no life, no vegetation, then at some point the seasons change, and abundant life springs forth from the fertile earth.
As the myth goes, Christ was crucified, Ishtar was killed by her sister, and Astarte was forced to sacrifice herself as a gift to the sea. In all of these stories, the one sacrificed ended up coming back to life from the womb of the earth and being re-born. Christ was symbolic in that he represented the rebirth of the people.
The early Christians did not celebrate Easter. The church knew the difference between the Pagan holiday and the resurrection of Christ. What has always been celebrated is Pascha or Passover. Only much later did the lines between the myths began to dissolve.
As far as the eggs and bunnies go, they are a celebration of fertility. Eggs were sacred to many ancient civilizations and formed an integral part of the religious ceremonies in Egypt and the Orient. The mystic egg is the symbol of generative life. Babylon hatched the Venus Ishtar, and fell from the heavens to the Euphrates . Dyed eggs were sacred Easter offerings in Egypt . Christians have mixed the two stories to achieve what is known as Easter today.
Many Christians understand that Halloween is a Pagan holiday but never considered the same about Christmas and Easter. It is ironic, really, that they never really questioned things like Santa, trees, gifts, eggs, and bunnies and how these things relate to their religion. Like most people, they did it because their parents did, and their parents before them. As for the person who said he hoped we would get back to the real meaning of Christmas, all I can say is, watch what you wish for, you just may get it.