It's Winter Solstice: Let's Talk About Your Christmas Tree's Crazy Pagan Past


christmas treeSince today is Winter Solstice, this is the perfect opportunity to answer that holiday question you've most likely been asking yourself for years: "Hey, what do Christmas trees and reindeer and candles and holly have to do with the birth of baby Jesus, anyway?" I mean, shouldn't we be decorating hay-filled mangers and, I don't know, pretending to be shepherds?

Nah ... nothing merry about mangers. But that doesn't change the fact that evergreen trees and reindeer and Santa and all the other jolly jazz have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of baby Jesus. Nope, not a thing.

Most of the symbols and traditions we associate with Christmas were taken from pagan Winter Solstice festivals that were in existence long, long before anything came upon a midnight clear ...

Twas thousands of years before Christmas, and all over the world, ancient civilizations honored the sun. Didn't matter where they lived -- Northern Europe or Britain or Egypt or Rome. Can you blame them? (Especially considering there was no electricity?) Anyway, as the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice symbolized rebirth; literally, the rebirth of the Sun God: The beginning of longer, warmer days, plants/crops growing again, trees bearing fruit ... you get the idea. The triumph of life over death.

So the Winter Solstice, also known as Yule or Saturnalia, was definitely a reason to party! The go-to decor for home and temple? Evergreen boughs, which, because they are ever green, symbolize eternal life. The Vikings even thought that the evergreen was a special plant of their sun god, Balder. The Romans, on the other hand, thought holly was the special plant of their agricultural god, Saturn.

The Druids, meanwhile, cut mistletoe from oak trees and gave it as a blessing. Because they considered oak trees to be sacred, the winter fruit of the mistletoe represented life in the cold and darkness. The Druids also came up with the Yule log, meant to illuminate the darkness and banish evil spirits. Indeed, fire was an important element of most solstice festivities (more of that light/sun/life thing), which explains that string of lights around your blue spruce and the candles in the windows.

Even Santa and his reindeer have roots in pagan tradition. According to Norse mythology, Thor (god of thunder) flew through the sky in a chariot pulled by magical flying goats named Gnasher and Cracker. Scandinavian Father-god Odin also rode through the sky, but on an eight-legged horse.

Oh, that's where it all ties in with the first Christmas!

What, you don't remember the eight-legged flying horse in the stable? Kidding. Relax!

Do you ever think about the origins of Christmas symbols and traditions?


Image via Timo Newton-Syms/Flickr

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nonmember avatar hollipop

I do, in fact, think about the orgins of symbols, traditions and rituals surrounding not only Christmas but all of our current holidays. For example: Easter. Easter is a celebration of Christ's ressurection, right? But Easter decorations and traditions often include such things as eggs, chicks, bunnies...what do eggs and bunnies have to do with Jesus? Absolutely nothing whatsoever. But chicks and bunnies, reproducing as they do, are symbols of fertility. And since Easter was placed over top of the pagan sabbat Ostara, a celebration of fertility, Easter decided when it took over the holiday to keep the traditions and symbols already in place. Interesting, right?

Maevelyn Maevelyn

And the super christians freak out in 10...9...8...7....

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

It's not the super Christians we have to worry about, they don't do all the Santa and holly side of things anyway. It's the war on Christmas brigade that get riled up over this stuff because goddess forbid you mention the fact that their religion is not the only one with a celebration.

Caera Caera

I am aware that a lot of the elements of the Christmas celebration has non-Christian roots, and I'm sure many, many Christians know it too. Here's the thing:

I don't care.

It doesn't matter to me what the Christmas tree meant to another group back then / now to another group. What I care about is what it means to the group I religiously identify with. To Christians everywhere, it means a non-religious symbol to go along with the non-religious (though possibly somewhat historic) character of Santa Claus. Now, it's also the highest point on which to put the star that leads to the nativity scene that we lay out beneath the Christmas tree.

It also doesn't matter that this time of year isn't actually the time of Jesus' birth, and that it coincides with the pagan days of importance. Why? Because it never meant that to me, my family, or countless other Christians who choose to celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25.

People can believe what they want. Put importance on days they want for whatever reason. That's all fine. If the pagan next door wants to celebrate the winter solstice or whatever on December 25, please go right ahead. But know that the celebration of the winter solstice doesn't take anything away from what I, and other Christians, believe and choose to do on that day.


Cathy_A Cathy_A

Every year we get articles about the pagan origins of the Christmas tree as if the author just cracked the Divinci Code


I'm a devout Christian, myself, and I have no problem that over the centuries, the church has incorporated elements of other cultures and religions (as long as they are not hurtful or whatever).  We don't live in a bubble.


nonmember avatar AI

It's something that never connected in my head as a kid. I've always been a student of logical thought, but no one would explain to me the deal with Santa and the tree and how that was related to Jesus (my Catholic family celebrated Los Reyes Magos, i.e. three wise men, either way). After changing my faith to something more Pagan, I prefer the Solstice. I've had people become upset with me for explaining the Pagan origins of Christmas, but then they're the ones who told me I was going to hell for not being Christian.

Kritika Kritika

I don't put a devil worshiping tree in my home, ever.

nonmember avatar Missforth

I'm sure we wouldn't get these stories every year, if we didn't also get people saying that "Jesus is the reason for the season" and "Keep Christin Christmas". If these people would stop trying to force their beliefs on everyone else, we wouldn't keep pointing out why they are wrong. If you wish to celebrate Jesus birthday on the 25th, that is wonderful and Merry Christmas to you. Just don't get on your high horse about it.

MamaR... MamaRockett

Omg, anyone who doesn't care about the genocide of my ancestors and forced conversion of those who would not last down and die are failing at Christianity. Omg.

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