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The Truth about Holidays
As December approaches the air all around becomes filled with the smell of Christmas. Without thinking, people get out their trees, put up their decorations, and start buying their gifts. To do all these things is normal; almost a force of habit. These habits are customs that people look forward to and treasure. For some, though, holidays have deeper meanings. They hold a deeper meaning, and are sacred and pure, in a way. To them, they have deep religious roots that span over generations and generations. What most people do not realize is that their beloved holidays often have pagan roots, and unpure beginnings.
If someone were to ask the general public how Easter began they would most likely be able to state the reason it is celebrated, though not all would, and different Easter celebrations of the time period. A problem with their answers would arise if someone asked them to link the two events together. Most self respecting Christians understand that Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later, which is why we celebrate a holiday that memorializes him. If that is they case, where did the rabbit come in? If people are commemorating Gods son dying on the cross, then why do they do it by dressing up like animals and handing out eggs? Is it to make it more acceptable to society?
The same happens with Christmas. Most people can relay the story of the birth of Jesus easily off the top of their heads. Almost all people, five year olds and elderly alike can tell vivid stories of their Christmas celebrations, with Santa Claus, stockings and eggnog galore. The same problem comes up again, however, when someone asks how it all coincides. How did a man in a white beard become linked with the story of a baby born in a manger? Even more importantly, how could a baby be born safely in the middle of winter with little to no shelter?
Questions arise with almost every holiday. These holidays have either started from falsehoods, or have been twisted from their original roots to fit the traditions of different time periods. Most holidays are thought of as Christian or have Christian origins, but have started from pagan roots.
A general consensus would confirm that most peoples favorite holiday is Christmas. It is a holiday observed by all people around the world, but is most significant to Christians. But how did this holiday get started? Some things are more widely known, such as the tales of St. Nicholas, the main figure to go into the early creation of Santa Claus (Tarpley 1). It was started in two ways. In the middle ages, Christianity began to grow more popular than most pagan religions thanks to the approval of rulers at that time (Christmas 3). As it spread, so did its main holiday, Easter. Around the fourth century as more and more people began to convert, it was thought that they should celebrate Christs birth along with his death (Christmas 2). A problem arose when they realized that the bible had no mention what so ever of the date that Jesus was born (Christmas 2). The logical thing to do, to them at least, was to make a holiday around the time that they were used to having celebrations. For pagan religions, most holidays were celebrated in the winter because that was the time that harvest was over, all meat was slaughtered, and all of the wine and mead was fermented (Christmas 1). Thus, a holiday was created called The Feast of Nativity to celebrate the birth of Christ. Such a sacred holiday was not celebrated as expected, however. Church officials had no control of how it was celebrated because they made it so close to original pagan holidays. People made the switch more natural by using the same traditions they always had.
On the day of the feast people would go to church to commemorate the event, then pull a completely turn around and party raucously in the street. It was unsafe for woman and children to go out after dark that night, and extra police force was often hired because the partying was so extreme. Tradition went that the crowds would pick a Lord of misrule and have the rest of the people serve him all night like insane subjects (Christmas 3). Also that night, the social order would be flipped in a trick or treat like fashion. The peasants and towns folk in the city would go to the upper class houses and demand food, drink, and entertainment (Christmas 2). If they did not meet their demands they would cause a ruckus to the poor nobles. Christmas was so incredibly dangerous, that it was outlawed in certain cities in the new colonies, such as Boston. If someone was seen showing the Christmas Spirit they could be fined on the spot. He strict demands were impart to the Puritans and their attitudes towards sin. Christmas fell even more out of favor after the American Revolution because of the distaste for the British that remained after the war (Christmas 3).
Christmas was redefined slightly in 17th century as a Church reform swept the area. Surprisingly, the thing that contributed most its change, was simply a collection of short stories by Washington Irving called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent. It painted a picture of a family using Christmas as a time of togetherness and bonding. Strange thing is, though, he had never experienced that himself. The idea of a peaceful and loving holiday was an idea that was solely created from his imagination. Imagine what Christmas might be like today if he had never thought of that. The holiday grew more and more about family values thanks to Charles Dickens and his story A Christmas Carol. The story helped with the growing emphasis on children and their happiness. People started giving presents to young ones more and more, and Christmas gave them a day when they could have an excuse to lavish gifts upon them.
Christmas is supposed to be a pleasant holiday with pure beginnings, which admittedly, it does in some ways. In other ways, however, it has some completely false origins. As stated before Christmas was purposefully created around different pagan holidays to help people adjust to Christianity easier, but how many holidays were already happening around that time, however? The answer is quite surprising. Winter solstice, the day of the year when we get the least amount of sunlight, was the most important winter holiday way before Christmas. It was celebrated by many different tribes and nationalities because it signified the longer days to come. In Scandinavia the Norse celebrated Yule from the winter solstice until mid January (Christmas 1). During the celebration, they would feast and burn logs for good luck. It was believed that every spark that came off of the burning log was a new animal to be born (Edgar 1). At the same time in Germany the worshipped the god Odin mostly out of fear. They believed that he flew over their houses, watching and judging them (Christmas 1). Saturnalia was also a very popular holiday at that time. It was the celebration of the Roman god Saturn and was celebrated from the week before winter solstice until a month afterwards. The Romans also observed Juvenalia around the same time, which was a feast honoring the youth in the city. On top all of that, they celebrated the birth of Mithra, their sun god. Those holidays are just a few of the ones that happened around that time, most of which were celebrated much like Christmas, and have very peculiar similarities.
Christmas isnt the only holiday that didnt begin from just pagan origins. As surprising as it might sound, Easter did also. It has its obvious links to other holidays, such as Passover, the Jewish holiday, also called Pesach. The word Pesach comes from Pasch, which is another name for Easter (Easter 1). The date which we celebrate this holiday is called a moveable feast because it changes depending on the calendar. In 325 BC in Nicaea the first council of the Christian Church gathered and decided that the date should be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the date where day and night are the same length. Easter can be celebrated between March 22 and April 25 (McCollister 1).
What is not known to most people, are the other roots of the holiday. It was proposed by an 8th century English scholar that it is most likely from an Anglo-Saxon holiday for their Goddess, who is surprisingly named Eastre, which is quite conveniently celebrated on the vernal equinox. Most holidays celebrated around that time were about women or fertility, such as the Greeks belief in their festival for Persephone. Persephone was Demeters daughter who represented the new coming of spring. There is a constant theme of being born again through out spring, which is why we hard boil and paint eggs during the holiday season.
No matter how these holidays began, they can still be saved and celebrated for what they should be. It is important, however, that people still know the roots of what they are celebrating. As people get older, they often ponder more and more and find out, but one is left to wonder why these origins are not widely taught in schools. With traditions that involve lying to your child, whether it be for joy or not, it is not surprising that the beginnings are not spoken of thoroughly. The information is out there, however. You just have to look. As long as people do not lose sight of what they are memorializing then all is not lost.