A Side of Syncretism

Since it’s almost Christmas time, it’s time to post another list for the Holidays! Many aren’t aware of the amalgam of cultural and religious influences that made Christmas what it is today. Indeed, Christmas was born out of the attempt for early Christians in late antiquity to convert pagan believers throughout Europe. Instead of shunning and dissing the local traditions and customs, those Christians sought to integrate elements of those beliefs into Christianity to make it more appealing. Local gods take on the forms of saints, for example, or the pagan winter festival is adopted as a Christian holiday, hence Christmas. Many cultures have winter festivals, celebrating the sun’s triumph over death as the sun was thought to have been dying as the days grew shorter. On the winter solstice, the sun starts to come back to life, and they days grow longer again. Many cultures contributed different elements to Christmas including:

  1. Christmas Trees

Christmas trees originated with German pagan societies and also Scandinavian ones. Venerating trees was common to many pagans, and evergreen trees represented eternal life to the Egyptians, Chinese, and even Hebrews! Oak trees were sacred in Norse beliefs, as it was associated with Odin. The Christians were have thought to replace the oak with the fir, since it reminded them of the trinity. Christmas trees as we know them today originate in Germany during the Renaissance.

2. Presents!

Gift giving was common to another holiday, Saturnalia! It honored the god Saturn. The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia in December and festivities included slaves and masters switching places as well as general celebration and banquets. December 19th was gift giving day, and special sculptures were made for gift giving. Children got toys, just like at Christmas. Even greeting cards were given, and the phrase for the holiday was “Io Saturnalia!”, much like “Merry Christmas”. Saturnalia is often cited as a predecessor for Christmas and was a national holiday too!

3. Decorations

Decorations such as holly and mistletoe originated with the Druids as holly and mistletoe were holy. Mistletoe was cut down with a golden sickle for one occasion. The Celts were druid and holly come from druid rituals. Ornaments were originally items made to sacrifice as gifts to the gods. Some even used to hang humans on the trees, such as their enemies and weapons as gifts to the gods! Makes one see their gingerbread men through new eyes! Ornaments as we know them supposedly were apples, reminding people of the fall of man after Eve ate the forbidden fruit, (Which no one said was an apple, to be specific!).

4. December

December was not just an arbitrary month to celebrate Christmas in. Many winter festivals were celebrated in December commemorating the winter solstice. Saturnalia is a prime example. Also, December 25th was the birthday of Mithra, a Persian god the Roman soldiers picked up. No where in the Bible does it specify the birthday of Jesus, and no mention of December! December came from older pagan festivities.

5. Jesus Christ (yes, I said it…)

By far, many Christians argue to put the “Christ” back in Christmas. They argue that Christ is the reason for the season, but even he is a mixture of cultural influences! The story of Jesus’ birth, life and death draw striking parallels to many other figures in other religions. The theme of dying and rising gods is common throughout other belief systems. The water to wine story is suspiciously familiar to what Dionysus, the god of wine, is able to do! Also, the concept of transubstantiation, that the Eucharist is literally Jesus’ flesh, is found in the Dionysus story too. In the Mithra’s cult, a practice eerily similar to baptism happens, including receiving a mark on the forehead! Many early Christians said Mithra’s practices were evil copies of Christian ones! The resurrection of Jesus is similar to that of an Egyptian god, Osiris, rising on the 3rd day after death. Dionysus and Osiris also were born of virgin mothers! Horus was crucified too, and Odin, a Norse god, sacrificed himself by hanging from a tree for 3 days. Other deities not mentioned also draw many parallels. Coincidence? :) …

Stay tuned to the Puritan “War on Christmas”, but you can probably guess why they hated Christmas after reading this!


About History Is Interesting

I like ancient and medieval history!
This entry was posted in Ancient History, Holidays, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Side of Syncretism

  1. Retrojackie says:

    Fascinating Julia!! Well researched!! Never knew that the Christmas tree had pagan roots!! See you soon!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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