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The Pagan Origins of Christmas Practices and Traditions – Part 2

By: S.L.A. © DawahMaterials.com

In Part 1, I discussed the origins of things such as: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Feasts, and Birthdays in general.  Part 2 will cover other icons and practices originating in Paganism.

Mistletoe & Holly

mistletoeIn Pagan history, mistletoe was the sacred plant of the goddess of love named Frigga (the mother of Balder-the god of the summer sun).  Balder had once dreamed that he died.  When he told his mother, she became frightened because if he were to die, that all the life on Earth would come to an end, so she went to the air, fire, water and earth, and all the animals and plants to seek protection for her son.  The ‘god of evil’ named Loki was Balder’s enemy, and somehow knew of a plant that Frigga didn’t go to, which was the mistletoe, which he then made an arrow out of, and gave it to the god of winter named Hoder, who shot Balder dead with it.  Life on Earth had become pale weeping for the god of the sun, Balder.  It was said that Frigga managed to bring her son back to life and that all her tears turned into the berries, and in her happiness, she would kiss everyone that went under the tree, and that anyone kissed there would be protected from any harm.[i]

Mistletoe is referred to as ‘dung twig’, or ‘all heal’ to the Celtics, by spreading via the feces of birds.  Birds were considered to be the messengers for the gods in Pagan beliefs.  The seeds would not grow on the ground, but only high up in trees, to supposedly be ‘closer to the heavens and gods’. 

Mistletoe was seen as a way to make a person fertile in the ancient customs, due to having special powers.  Women that were infertile would wear it in their hair or around their waist in a pouch thinking it would make them fertile.  The white berries were an aphrodisiac and the ‘x’ mark on the berries were considered to represent a kiss.  The Pagans that celebrated Saturnalia believed that it had powers to provide people with a romantic relationship, and make them fertile. 

If a woman standing under a bow of mistletoe went un-kissed, it meant that she would not have a relationship or marriage for the next year, and it was considered bad luck to refuse to kiss her. 

Branches of mistletoe were hung by people in the Middle Ages to also ward off evil spirits, witches and pagans who were not welcomed.

When the Christians adopted this tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, they would burn it on the 12th day in beliefs that all those that kissed under it would marry, and if they didn’t burn it, they wouldn’t marry.  Eventually the Church banned it, and forbid it to be hung because of its Pagan origins and beliefs which also rooted in superstitions and use as amulets for protection, because it went against the teachings of the Bible.

Despite the church forbidding it, it managed to regain popularity and has been used like a good-luck charm ever since.

The Druids believed in it to be a healer and remedy to poison as well as having other special powers.  It is believed that the mistletoe contains the soul of the tree.  The Roman early encyclopedia author of Natural History, Pliny, in the first century, explained that the Druid magicians considered it the most sacred, and they would hold a ceremony to pluck it from the trees.  After the ceremony, they cut the mistletoe down, and then kill their sacrifice, and hold a banquet under the tree.  They would then drink things with the mistletoe in it as a healer and an antidote to poisons.[ii] 

Celtic people today still believe it to be a healer with special powers and as a form of an amulet to ward off misfortunes as a form of protection.

HollyAs for holly, there are accounts in parts of Britain that people considered holly and mistletoe as sacred and was used in divination.  They would take 9 leaves and would tie them in knots into a cloth like a handkerchief and place it under pillows to bring prophetic dreams.  Holly was hated by witches supposedly at that time, supposedly because it represented the thorns of the crown of Jesus and the berries symbolized the blood of Christ.[iii]

According to Wiccan beliefs, Holly was used to decorate the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Spirits would come and join their celebrations. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents.[iv]

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was used at the Roman Pagan Saturnalia festival to honor him. The Romans would give people holly wreaths as gifts and it was also used as a form of medicine.  The Romans use to persecute Christians, so the Christians would decorate the inside and outside of their home to avoid such persecution, and as the Christians began to increase, the custom continued and became symbols of Christmas, when it never was.

In witchcraft, it is used in consecrations and used in spells for material gain, physical revenge, protection against lightening, good luck and more.  Witches also use it in rituals related to death and ‘rebirth’, and make wands from it to banish unwanted entities and evoke spirits in their beliefs.

During times of idolatry, the Israelites followed the superstitions of the pagan people around them, including wearing amulets and magic charms.

The Bible gives stern warnings to not involve oneself in such practices. 

Isaiah 2:6 tells us:

“You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob.  They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.(NIV)

Isaiah 3:18-20 says:

“In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets (NASB)

In Galatians 5:19-21 it says:

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 reads:

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.” (NIV)

Such practices are forbidden to the Christians, Jews, and Muslims like, clearly forbidden in the Bible as well as the Qur’an.  A believer should avoid the practices of the disbelieving heathens.

Yule Logs

Yule logThe events surrounding the Yule were centered around Midwinter where feasting, drinking, and sacrifices were involved. The Yule log was believed to ward off a range of misfortunes, including toothaches, mildew, lightning, house fires, hail and other things.  It was basically an amulet for superstitions and protection instead of reliance on God.

Scholar Rudolf Simek comments that the pagan Yule feast "had a pronounced religious character" and comments that "it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages.

[v]

According to Wiccan beliefs, on this night of Yule, their ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, and the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth. The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift. It must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil."[vi]  Yggdrasil was an immense mythical tree that connected the nine worlds in Norse cosmology, which was considered very holy, which the gods would go to, to assemble. 

Numerous scholars have observed that, like other traditions associated with Yule  (such as the Yule boar ), the custom may ultimately derive from Germanic paganism .

Around 1725, Henry Bourne explained the Germanic Paganism origins of the Yule log.  He states:

“Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devious of Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up Candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the Fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog, or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, aud [sic] turn the Night into Day; which custom, in some Measure, is still kept up in the Northern Parts. It hath, in all probability, been derived from the Saxons. For Bede tells us, That [sic] this very Night was observed in this Land before, by the Heathen Saxons. They began, says he, their Year on the Eight of the Calenders of January, which is now our Christmas Party: And the very Night before, which is now Holy to us, was by them called Mædrenack, or the Night of the Mothers … The Yule-Clog therefore hath probably been a Part of those Ceremonies which were perform'd that Night's Ceremonies. It seems to have been used, as an Emblem of the return of the Sun, and the lengthening of the Days. For as both December and January were called Guili or Yule, upon Account of the Sun's Returning, and the Increase of the Days; so, I am apt to believe, the Log has had the Name of the Yule-Log, from its being burnt as an Emblem of the returning Sun, and the Increase of its Light and Heat. This was probably the Reason of the custom among the Heathen Saxons; but I cannot think the Observation of it was continued for the same Reason, after Christianity was embraced.…"[vii]

 

Caroling: Singing outside the homes of people

Lucian, an ancient Greek historian, and writer, wrote about the Saturnalia festival and what took place.  Along with human sacrifices, the he also mentioned widespread intoxication, singing while naked while going from house to house, rape, as well as many other bizarre practices. People would often dance around stone circles too.

Early Christians accepted this Pagan Saturnalia custom and made it part of Christmas and changed the songs. However, over time, the people didn’t favor doing it because they were usually sung in Latin, which many of the people didn’t understand.  By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), majority of the people lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether

Gift-giving

Gift-giving was part of the celebrations of the Pagan on their holiday of the Saturnalia, which later influenced through the Pagan god Oden, which, later evolved to become a practice by the Christianization of the holiday, through the concept of Santa Claus.

In the pre-Christian era of Rome, emperors made their most despised citizens to provide offerings during the Saturnalia festival in December and the Kalends in January.  Later the rest of the population started to do it as well.  Through Christianization, the church adopted the custom, and then later attributed the gift-giving, to be connected to the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him). 

Star of Bethlehem & the Three Wise Men

Three wise men nativity sceneChristians portray the nativity scene of Jesus (peace be upon him), having ‘three wise men’ bearing gifts at the time of his birth. The Magi were priests of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia.

They were astronomers, not astrologists, which were also priests, not kings, nor magicians as many perceive them to have been, nor as described in the Bible to be.  The Greeks were interested in mysticism and falsely attributed the word ‘Magi’ to denote magician, but the Zoroastrians actually forbid magic and such, and the term was known before the Greeks adulterated it, to mean ‘learned one/wise one’.

They were traveling missionaries, and according to Zoroastrian beliefs, they were to seek out those called ‘saviors’ because they believe that each person is a potential savior of our world, a savior for each in regards of good over evil, also, hence their strong advocating of environmental preservation to save the world.   

It is said that the Magi came with gifts to greet the new king (Jesus), and in Zoroastrian beliefs, the specific items (which were gifted) represented 1-good thoughts, 2-good words, and 3-good deeds, which is a central belief and concept of the Zoroastrians.

Some claim that they were astrologers (but they were astronomers, not astrologists).  With this viewpoint of them assumedly being astrologers, it is said that upon seeing this ‘star’ in the sky, they traveled to find the new king,

However, the portrayal of them at the nativity scene causes a problematic timing issue of ‘when’ they were present to greet Jesus (peace be upon him).  If they were in Persia at the time of sighting the star, it would have taken them on average almost a year or more to arrive after seeing the star.  Some accounts state that they arrived between one and two years AFTER his birth.[viii]

Now, according to Zoroastrians, they reject the story of the Magi visiting Jesus (peace be upon him), as a false ‘story’, since there is no documented record in their own history of it.  After all, they were avid followers of astronomy, and if they believed in what has been explained, then they would have documented such an event, as they did with everything else, right?

Now, if they were to be actually magicians, and astrologers, as the Greeks falsely attributed to them, as evident in the Bible, then why would they travel to visit and pay tribute to the ‘god’ of the religion that says they should be killed, or doomed to hellfire? They were still Zoroastrians, with their own religion and beliefs, only paying their respects to the new king of Israel, nothing more…they were not there to worship him.

Now, all that aside, if you wish to explore the Zoroastrian view of the story, versus the Biblical view, read my other article, titled: “The Three Wise Men: Zoroastrian Priests and Astronomers, or Magicians and Astrologers?” linked under "recommended reading" at the end of the article. I will explain in it, what the Bible has to say about Magi, and how all of it simply doesn’t add up.

So, What Icons ARE Christian Based?

Not much really.

Poinsettias

PoinsettiasAlthough Poinsettias do not have pagan origins, nor scriptural foundations, they do have a Christian folklore origin.  It was in Mexico, during the 16th century that it is said that a poor girl named Pepita, or Maria, was unable to get a gift for Christmas to give, and that an angel prompted her to collect some weeds from the side of the road and to place those at the church alter.[ix]  Supposedly the red flowers sprouted from the weeds, and become known as poinsettias.  The star shaped leaves were said to symbolize the star of Bethlehem, and the red symbolizing the blood of Jesus (peace be upon him).

Candy Canes

Candy canesMuch later, after the Christians started decorating Christmas trees, they usually would adorn them with food items of various sorts. Originally in the 17th century, straight white sticks of candy were made in Germany to keep children quiet during church were later curved to the shape of a hook, to make them hang easy on the tree, and said to represent the shepherds crooks, and other say it was the “J” for Jesus.

A German immigrant brought the custom to the United States.  In the 1950s, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, invented a machine to mass produce the treats.  Red stripes were eventually added, and it is said the white represented the purity of Christ, and the red – his blood, and the three stripes to represent the trinity.

Conclusion:

As we can see, there isn’t really much of anything actually ‘Christian’ in ‘Christmas’.  Jesus wasn’t even born on December 25th. Read my article about that here.

Practically all icons and practices associated with Christmas are stemming from Paganism in its various forms.  When the Bible teaches against such customs, the Christians shouldn’t be doing it, much less Muslims. 

Isaiah 2:6 tells us:

“You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob.  They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.(NIV)

Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as saying:

“You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah's Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)" those before you"? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?” (Muslim Book 34, Hadith 6448 )

It was narrated that Jabir bin 'Abdullah said:

"In his Khutbah the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to praise Allah as He deserves to be praised, then he would say: 'Whomsoever Allah (SWT) guides, none can lead him astray, and whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide. The truest of word is the Book of Allah and best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The worst of things are those that are newly invented; every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is going astray, and every going astray is in the Fire.'” (Nasa’I Vol. 2, Book 19, Hadith 1579 . Sahih)

People should follow God’s guidelines, not culture that goes against God.  To claim it is only a secular or non-religious holiday for people these days is not a valid excuse, because those people claim to be Christians or Muslims, and are doing things that their religion strictly forbids.   I don’t see people hanging satanic symbols in their homes and say ‘it is just a decoration, we don’t really believe in it.’  Muslims don’t hang crosses, or the Star of David, or keep statues of Hindu deities or Buddha in their homes, so why would we hang or put up Pagan decorations based on false gods or superstitions, or fall into their practices? 

May Allah guide us all to the right path and keep us steadfast on it. Ameen.

Read Part 1, to read about the origins of things such as: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Feasts, and Birthdays in general.

 

Recommended Reading:

Jesus Was Not Born on December 25th

The Three Wise Men: Zoroastrian Priests and Astronomers, or Magicians and Astrologers? (Coming Soon)

Should Muslims, Christians, and Jews Celebrate Halloween?

Should Muslims Celebrate the Mawlid (Birthday of Muhammad pbuh)?

Is the Crucifixion of Jesus Really Foretold in the Old Testament?

Do Muslims Believe in the Bible?

Bible Corruption Series: Part 1 – Intro to Bible Version Differences

Bible Corruption Series: Part 2 – 1 John 5:7, The Three That Bear Record in Heaven (Comma Johanneum)

Bible Corruption Series: Part 3 – John 7:53-8:11, Pericope of the Adulteress

Bible Corruption Series: Part 4 – Mark 16:9-20, Resurrection of Jesus

Bible Corruption Series: Part 5 – Conflicting Gospels on the Empty Tomb & Ascension of Jesus



[i] The Holiday Spot

[ii] Pliny the Elder. Natural History XVI, 95

[iii] Sanford Niles, ed. (1895). Christmas History and Customs. School Education Company. p. 24.

[iv] Wicca.com

[v] Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer ISBN 0-85991-513-1. pp. 379–380.

[vi] Wicca.com

[vii] Bourne, Henry. Observations on Popular Antiquities. T. Saint. (1740:155–162).

[viii] NewAdvent

[ix] The Legends and Traditions of Holiday Plants | Horticulture and Home Pest News. www.ipm.iastate.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-17.

Scholar Rudolf Simek comments that the pagan Yule feast "had a pronounced religious character" and comments that "it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages."[i]

According to Wiccan beliefs, on this night of Yule, their ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, and the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth. The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift. It must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil.[ii]  Yggdrasil was an immense mythical tree that connected the nine worlds in Norse cosmology, which was considered very holy, which the gods would go to, to assemble. 

Numerous scholars have observed that, like other traditions associated with Yule  (such as the Yule boar ), the custom may ultimately derive from Germanic paganism .

Around 1725, Henry Bourne explained the Germanic Paganism origins of the Yule log.  He states:

“Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devious of Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up Candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the Fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog, or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, aud [sic] turn the Night into Day; which custom, in some Measure, is still kept up in the Northern Parts. It hath, in all probability, been derived from the Saxons. For Bede tells us, That [sic] this very Night was observed in this Land before, by the Heathen Saxons. They began, says he, their Year on the Eight of the Calenders of January, which is now our Christmas Party: And the very Night before, which is now Holy to us, was by them called Mædrenack, or the Night of the Mothers … The Yule-Clog therefore hath probably been a Part of those Ceremonies which were perform'd that Night's Ceremonies. It seems to have been used, as an Emblem of the return of the Sun, and the lengthening of the Days. For as both December and January were called Guili or Yule, upon Account of the Sun's Returning, and the Increase of the Days; so, I am apt to believe, the Log has had the Name of the Yule-Log, from its being burnt as an Emblem of the returning Sun, and the Increase of its Light and Heat. This was probably the Reason of the custom among the Heathen Saxons; but I cannot think the Observation of it was continued for the same Reason, after Christianity was embraced.…"[iii]



[i] Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer ISBN 0-85991-513-1. pp. 379–380.

[iii] Bourne, Henry. Observations on Popular Antiquities. T. Saint. (1740:155–162).

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