Religious days and celebrations within Christian culture are anything but sparse, but many people aren’t aware that many of their celebrations were based upon earlier pagan practices. In this article we are going to take a look at several commonly practiced holidays and explain their relation to ancient pagan customs.
Stories of jack-o-lanterns, baskets of candy, and frightening costumes is what crosses the minds of most people when they think about Halloween. Although many people know that this holiday is on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallow’s Day, many people don’t know that this holiday has it’s roots in pagan origin. Jack-o-lanterns have existed for centuries, as an integral part of ancient Celtic celebrations, which took part at the beginning of the winter season.
Celtic druids (a pagan priest-hood) believed that the barriers between our world and the supernatural were thin and could break down at specific times of the year. At this celebration, they believed that souls of the dead could wander through this barrier and roam the lands. Many townships at this time would build bonfires to scare these spirits away, and at times, even sacrifice animals in an attempt to appease the lost souls. The concept of the jack-o-lantern was originally intended to represent the lost souls which became trapped between worlds, although others thought it to be a mechanism to help ward off evil spirits. The original jack-o-lanterns were actually carved from turnips, since pumpkins are strictly native to America.
Although many Christians still consider Halloween to be a representation of All Hallow’s Eve—the night before the Catholic All Saints’ Day—many modern Christians are coming to terms with the fact that this Holiday has pagan origins, with animistic tendencies, correlating to polytheism, and are abandoning celebration of the holiday.
The Christmas holiday lends it’s story to pagan origin as well. Druids in old Britain and France would often practice a 12 day festival during the period of the winter solstice. Mythologically, the holiday was intended to represent an annual war between two mythical beings, representing ice (death) and sun (life), while the days of summer turned darker towards the end of the summer period.
These legends were meant as a way to explain the changing of the seasons and setting times of the sun.
What is considered Christmas today, began as the pagan mid-winter festival. This is actually when Christmas trees began to be cut down, brought into homes, and put on display. It was meant to appease the sun god and promote good harvest and longer days. This pagan holiday persisted through the Middle Ages and was eventually adopted within Christian belief, due to Roman Catholic missionaries working to convert people from pagan worship to Christianity. Germans then brought these customs to America. The popular carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, owes tribute to pagan origin as well.
When people think of Easter, usually their definition is comprised of smiling kids, colored eggs, and Easter baskets of candy. However, many believe that the name Easter is derived from the ancient Chaldean goddess, referred to as Astarte, or ‘Ishtar’ in Babylon. Most other languages pronounce the ‘I’ as ee, and due to these lingual variants, it isn’t difficult to see the similar pronunciations.
Ishtar was a goddess of love and fertility, and complimentary, her holy symbols were eggs and rabbits. It is thought that people worshiped Ishtar around this time to ask for her blessing, in order to aid crop fertility. Although the decoration of
Easter eggs may seem innocent, during ancient times people were known to practice sexual rituals, often with temple prostitutes, in order to appease the goddess.
In closing, although Christianity is a popular religion, with much to learn from and a deep history, it’s important to note that it was highly influenced by various other cultures around the world.