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Christmas: Just where did all those traditions come from?

Updated on October 7, 2008

Who doesn't like Christmas?

Free gifts, tons of parties, good will and merriment abound, festive lights decorating everything...

It's a beautiful holiday.

But where did all those Christmas traditions come from?

Who came up with the idea to string lights on almost everything? Why do we give presents? Why do we chop down Christmas trees?

While many skeptics argue that Christmas is all about Jesus Christ's birth, even more claim our lovely traditions came from Pagan practices. Here are a bunch of traditions we generally uphold that do indeed come from Pagan ideals.

Following all references, there will be a link that looks like this: [#] You can follow this link to the article referred to, though I will say I'll mainly be using Wikipedia. It is my friend, and I've yet to have problems with it. I have not gone into Wikipedia and edited any of the articles (like I know how to do that?); what you see on that site is what I've posted.

Christmas Itself

I cannot say it better myself, so I'm posting the article section I found in Wikipedia about Christmas's origins:

"Pre-Christian origins

A winter festival was traditionally the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included less agricultural work needing to be done during the winter, as well as people expecting longer days and shorter nights after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.In part, the Christmas celebration was created by the early Church in order to entice pagan Romans to convert to Christianity without losing their own winter celebrations. Certain prominent gods and goddesses of other religions in the region had their birthdays celebrated on December 25, including Ishtar, Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, and war, Sol Invictus and Mithras. Modern Christmas with pagan customs include: gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; and Yule logs and various foods from Teutonic feasts. Such traditions are considered to have been syncretised from winter festivals including the following:

Natalis Solis Invicti

Mosaic of Jesus Christ depicted as Sol (the Sun god) in Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is named Christo Sole (Christ the Sun) and is dated to the late 3rd century by the Italian archaeologists.

The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the undefeated sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin. Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.

December 25 was considered the day upon which the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma, fell. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) It is the day the Sun proves itself to be "unconquered" and begins its movement toward the north on the horizon. The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Several early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born", Cyprian wrote.


Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period. Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder, with the belief that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days. In pagan Germania (not to be confused with Germany), the equivalent holiday was the mid-winter night which was followed by 12 "wild nights", filled with eating, drinking and partying. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.

Christian origins

Origen, a father of the Christian church, argued against the celebration of birthdays, including the birth of Christ.

It is unknown exactly when or why December 25 became associated with Christ's birth. The New Testament does not give a specific date. Sextus Julius Africanus popularized the idea that Christ was born on December 25 in his Chronographiai, a reference book for Christians written in AD 221. This date is nine months after the traditional date of the Incarnation (March 25), now celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. March 25 was considered to be the date of the vernal equinox and early Christians believed this was also the date Christ was crucified. The Christian idea that Christ was conceived on the same date that he died on the cross is consistent with a Jewish belief that a prophet lived an integral number of years.

The celebration of Christmas as a feast did not arise for some time after Chronographai was published. Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday "as if he were a king pharaoh". He contended that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays.

The earliest reference to the celebration of the nativity on December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354. In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival focused on the baptism of Jesus.

Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, and to Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days from the day after Christmas Day, December 26, which is St. Stephen's Day, to the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 that encompass the major feasts surrounding the birth of Christ. In the Latin Rite, one week after Christmas Day, January 1, has traditionally been the celebration the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ, but since Vatican II, this feast has been celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

In some traditions the 12 days of Christmas start on Christmas Day (25 December) and the 12th day is therefore 5 January."[3]

Christmas Trees

"A Christmas tree, Yule tree, holiday tree or Tannenbaum (German: fir tree) is one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of Christmas. It is normally an evergreen coniferous tree that is brought into a home or used in the open, and is decorated with Christmas lights and colorful ornaments during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story." [1]

Christmas trees weren't always for Christians. They held special significance for Germanic tribes in Scandinavia. In one tribe, kinds would sacrifice nine males of nine species in sacred grove every nine years (the number 9 held great importance in Norse Mythology).

Saint Boniface is credited with inventing the Christmas tree itself; he'd chopped down the Oak of Thor, a very important tree, in order to confront the old gods and beliefs. A fir tree then grew from the roots of this almighty oak, and was declared the new symbol. It represented Jesus through it's evergreen branches (light even in the darkest days) and pointed toward the heavens as a sign to God.

Traditional adornments were generally small things children found on Christmas Day, such as berries, nuts, fruits and paper flowers the children made. Lights weren't a big thing until Martin Luther (the dude that came up with the Lutheran Doctrine) decided to put them on there. Oh, and did I mention in his time, Christmas trees were hung upside down? Yeah, he put them upright for us. Supposedly, anyway.

Christmas trees weren't really popular back then, either. Catholics weren't their #1 fans. They found them distracting from the word of God. It wasn't until royals discovered this tradition and started doing it themselves when the tradition really boomed.

Santa Claus

"You better watch out, you better not cry; You better not pout, I'm tellin' you why; Santa Claus is comin' to town..."

Santa's known by many names. To most he is Santa Claus, but to others, he is also Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or St. Nikolaus, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël, Joulupukki, Babbo Natale, Weihnachtsmann, Saint Basil and Father Frost). [2] Father Christmas was originally portrayed as a drunk and happy fellow associated with holidy merriment and drinking rather than gift-giving. Most of the other Santas were changed to represent the German-American Thomas Nast's image of Santa Claus, which he drew annually beginning in 1863. La Benfana, an Italian Santa-like character, is said to have gotten lost while bringing gifts to Baby Jesus, so now brings gifts to children everywhere instead. In some cultures, Santa is accompanied by a group of "helpers" called Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. I'm not sure what you'll make of the Knecht Ruprecht, so I'm not going to interpret those characters. In other cultures, he's helped by elves, and his wife is known as Mrs. Claus.

The German St. Nikolaus and the Weihnachtsman (the dude who brings the gifts to the German kids) are not the same person; St. Nikolaus wears what looks like a bishop's dress and only gives out little gifts on December 6th, usually little nuts, candies or fruits.

What I Think

Disclaimer: This section is what I believe, and some of it is based on facts. You don't have to believe what I believe; you have the right to decide for yourself, y'know.

I personally believe Christmas has little to do with Jesus Christ. Sure, yeah, Jesus was a great guy and all. But here's something to ponder:

In the story of the Nativity, shepherds were out in their fields with the sheep. Now, if it were winter, it would be too cold for the shepherds to be out there at night. How could Jesus have been born in December when it was that darn cold out, and the shepherds wouldn't have been outside to see the Angel and gone to him?

The answer: Jesus was actually born in the summer.

Ah, how I love the History Channel...

I also don't believe in immaculate conception. Then again, I am not Christian, so don't go bashing me for that, mmkay? I honestly think that Jesus was born out of wedlock, and in an attempt to hide it, was claimed as an immaculate conception. I have a hard time believing that God would go all out for one little boy. The Christians went to way too much trouble to destroy any book they did not deem suitable for the Bible, and they beat it hard into Heathen heads that their views were not right, their beliefs were evil and wicked, and those who did not accept Jesus and God were to be damned forever, even though a lot of the Christian traditions of today were stolen from Pagan traditions.

Where do you think Halloween comes from? Or Valentine's Day? Even Easter was stolen from Pagans in an attempt to make Christian conversion easier.

Most of our traditions were taken from early Pagans because they just couldn't live without their holidays and rituals. Thus, early Christians had to change them to make them more Pagan-converting-to-Christian-friendly.

Those are my views. Attack me if you will, but I will believe what I will believe, and you cannot change my mind for me.

Well kids, there you have it! The truth about Christmas has been revealed! Just don't spoil it for the little ones; it's fun to watch them open presents on Christmas morning. Enjoy the holidays, and may all your Christmasses be bright!


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Jesus was not just any little boy. He was the Savior sent by God. Only because a virgin birth seems impossible to us does not make it impossible. Only years ago man thought it impossible to walk on the moon. What seems impossible to us is only based on what we can understand. God is not limited by our understanding nor by human limitations. If He were, He would not be God, the creator of heaven and earth. It is only through Jesus that we can have everlasting life. Romans 3:21-26. I do not want to attack but only to bring light and truth to you as Jesus did when He was born. God bless.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am a christian and agree with most of the pagan traditions we honor calling it something else....but the Lord told us in his word this would happen look at Mark 7:7-9," And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God you hold the tradition of men-the washing of pitchers and cups and many other such things you do." All to well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition." About the bible I disagree, alot of disbeliefs arise because people really do not understand the true word of God. You will hear all the time I've tried to read the bible, but I just do not understand it. Then there are people who claim that a passage means something, when it totally means something else. They pick and choose what they read and want to hear. No one understands the bible at the same speed or time, only God has the power to give us understanding and only he allows us to learn at his speed, not ours. Look at Matthew 13:11 when Jesus was speaking to his diciples, which still holds true in present time: "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. Do you think bible, God's word would be still around, if men truly understood it. Which in many places they are burning, because they don't want people to read and receive the knowledge of the bible, God's word.

    • profile image

      Anthony Justiniano 

      7 years ago

      Well i my self im a christian a Pentecostal Not catholic XD anyways I do so much Belive this Article is Totally truth and do so agree with every step of it exept "The Christians went to way too much trouble to destroy any book they did not deem suitable for the Bible, and they beat it hard into Heathen heads that their views were not right, their beliefs were evil and wicked, and those who did not accept Jesus and God were to be damned forever, even though a lot of the Christian traditions of today were stolen from Pagan traditions" see the early Catholics u should say not christian i denie to belive the a follower of christ would do such a thing see because this ppl used the belive of a real christ to gorvern ppls heads they wanted them to do as they wanted so use the only real god to do so and im ashame of this religion as it is now and always been chatoolics are an evil religion use to control and manage only what they like see this Pope been praise and loved by many a man like any other u can tell how fake is there religion that there bible tell em not to praise or love any man in that way and they still use a man as an idol god says dont use images of me and that's the first thing on there churches? a christ is totally against it self it says its ok to smoke and drink but bible says your body is th temple of the holy spirit treated as in the temples of the kings they use to put smoke and kill it from inside out??? i agree on your point but stil i dislike when ppl talk about christians like if we are all christians when we not they follow words of man i follow words of chris so makes me a chritian and them a manfollower =) thanks thu i like this article buityfull!

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Nice hub! I also like to celebrate Christmas because of its pagan origins. Wonderful to read more about this.

    • Kika Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Kika Rose 

      11 years ago from Minnesota

      I don't like to sit still. :-P Did I mention I pwn at writing? *basks in her little spotlight*

      Thank you all for the wonderful comments. I'm always afraid I'm gonna write a complete flop, but so far I've had nothing but positive feedback! ^_^ I can't wait to write more!

      Oh wait, I just did write more! xD Check out my newest hub on girl dating advice! Guys, that stuff applies to you, too! :-P

      I'm off to catch me a few Z's. Hopefully, anyway. That is, if I don't stay awake and keep writing. xD

    • Ande Moore profile image

      Ande Moore 

      11 years ago from Austin, Texas

      nice article, i enjoyed your tie ins and commentary, keep it up

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      11 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi, Kika. My you've been busy! This was a great hub. Lots of great information with a nice, clean style. Nice to see you doing so well. Stop by for a visit sometime.

    • karenlee profile image


      11 years ago from new york city

      Yes. jesus' birth is  timed during the coming of the light--when the days begin to get longer and the sun is connected to our every living aspect. chk.  and search Zeitgeist   for some other exploritory work on this subject. VERY Interesting and enlightening.   

    • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image


      11 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

      Thank you for this great hub. I agree with you. Christmas IS CONNECTED with winter solstice, it is celebration of the power of Light and Sun, and it is very, very old tradition. Old Slavic pagan tradition also used to celebrate that day. By the way, some catholic priests also admit that day is actually festival of light and connected with winter solstice (I heard one in catholic church in London, few of them in my country).

      A lot of episodes form Jesus life is taken from another religions, old good "copy-paste" system.

      What is the most important, is idea about peace, tolerance and love, which is the same in the root of every spiritual belief or in philosophy or in idealistic part of every human being. The rest is legend, story, people also have long tradition of story-making, especially in cold, long winter days. Bud idea of goodness and love prevails, that is only what is important, and that is what all of us adore when celebrating Christmas.

      Thanks for informations and courage to write your opinions in public.

    • JKSophie profile image


      11 years ago from Philippines

      Hey! Thanks for answering my request. It's interesting to read views like yours and to know where Christmas really originated. :-)


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