EDITORIAL: PEACE ON EARTH
A Matter of Tradition
There are many traditions around Christmas. One of the more recent traditions being the speech, usually given by the sort of edgy atheist who moves all the Bible’s in a book store to the fiction section. The local TV reporter goes out to listen to the rant that basically goes on about how Christmas is bullshit because it was stolen from the pagans. Which path of paganism is rarely, if ever, specified. This isn’t technically wrong, the modern version of Christmas contains several traditions dating back to early Germanic pagans but it is not as simple as some would have you believe.
There are many Christians who aren’t going to want to hear it-but the church is not eternal. There were large swaths of history when much of Europe, particularly the north-west area was dominated by, if not entirely pagan. One of the definitions of paganism being those who worship the old gods. Old gods, as opposed to the new gods of monotheism.
It was the 5th century before Christianity reached the southern portion of the Germanic nations. The population of the far north, what is often referred to as Lapland, held strong to paganism until the 17th century. Many in the far north still practice their pagan traditions.
It isn’t fair to say that Christianity ‘stole’ Christmas from European paganism. The truth of it is more a matter of rebranding the familiar. Many of the traditions and beliefs having been held by the peoples of the area for a thousand generations. The primary difference in terms of Yule (pagan winter solstice) and Christmas is that Christmas is specifically the celebration of the birth of Christ. Christ of course had nothing to do with any European traditions. But it was a convenient holiday that just needed a name change to take it from pagan to Christian.
Truthfully, the Yule celebration was a big deal. When Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ what better way than to choose a time on the calendar that was already marked by celebration. Christmas is based in European pagan traditions that have carried over and survived into the 21st century. Nearly every element of the Christmas celebration draws its origins directly from the European, particularly Germanic pagan tradition.
O Christmas Tree!
The Christmas tree is the most obvious example of the cross-over between Christmas and Yule. Christmas trees, are a pagan symbol of the strength of nature, standing up to the harshest weather without yielding. The ritual cutting of a tree to set up and then decorate, originally with candles against the winter dark, dates back thousands of years in Germanic nations. It was originally a way of paying respects to nature by bringing it into the home. The lights are meant to represent the coming of the new sun.
Another Log On The Fire
An element of the Christmas celebrations that makes no secret of its Yule origins is the Yule Log. This is a particularly long burning log used by the occupants of the Northern European region to keep warm during the long winter nights in the time before heaters. A tradition later picked up by the British and then Christianity in general as a part of Christmas. It is also interesting to note that the popular seasonal song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has an explicit reference to ‘make the Yuletide bright’ a reference to this. The main way to do such a thing for centuries was to put a Yule log on the hearth. This is also the basis of the popularity of candles in both Christmas and Yule celebrations.
Deer and The Fat Man
Another easy and obvious one, reindeer are indigenous to northern Finland and are a main resource for the indigenous Sami people. Santa, a Germanic name when pronounced correctly, while commonly believed to have been invented by the Coca-Cola company, actually has his origins in the pagan notion of the Holly King. Being the son of this self-same deity. A connection hinted at by the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol, in nearly every depiction or rendition, with his holly crown and Santa-style fur-lined coat. The hat that has become synonymous with Santa is also of a Norse origin.
Then there is the origins of the mistletoe tradition. Mistletoe was used by Druids for millennium to increase vigor and sexuality. We now hang it in doorways hoping to get caught under it. It is also worth noting that Santa’s sleigh is of a distinctly Germanic design, one much like it, pulled by a reindeer no less, showing up in Frozen which is set in an old Germanic region. The names – Ana, Elsa, Olaf etc. – make that abundantly clear. Yule even has its own tradition of seasonal music, which can have a lot in common with Christmas carols, if you listen closely. Much of the original sound surviving the conversion to Christianity.
Rather than focusing on the supposed difference, which are actually pretty slim, I propose that this Team Jesus and those on the side of the old gods, set aside the precise difference, possibly their suspicions, to enjoy this lovely, shared season together. Generally taking a tow-may-tow, tow-maah-toe approach to the exact terminology.