Christmas, or Yuletide as it’s also called, seems to be connected to Christianity by name and popular association only. The rest of it is thoroughly pagan, without any references to the Bible. Let’s look at the following points.
Before I start let’s clear things up. I’m not some Christian fanatic out to de-paganize Christmas, and I’m certainly not out to cancel Christmas. I actually like Christmas as a pagan holiday and a modern one. Some would say they’re one the same, but I like it a little more pagan. I’m not technically a pagan, I’m just a fan.
Anyway, first of all is Jesus’ birthday and the Christmas feast.
Most people believe that Jesus was born on December 25th, but that’s nowhere in the Bible. It started when the Christian church wanted to pinpoint a date for their saviour’s birth so that they can celebrate it as a holiday. They figured December 25th was a good date considering, in Ancient Rome, Saturnalia was celebrated on that day, it was a time when the ancient Romans were celebrating in merriment, festivity, and feasting, for Saturn, the god of agriculture, so the church was able to Christianize Saturnalia so that they’d be celebrating the birth of Jesus, and not celebrating a pagan god. There was also a Roman god called Mithras (adapted from an Iranian sun god), whose birthday is believed to be the same date.
Second, Santa Claus.
This dude is the reason children get excited for Christmas, besides presents. But we’re not here talk about whether he’s real or not (though I think it’s actually the parents). We’re here for his origin story. As you may expect, there is no reference to him, or anyone like him, in the Bible. The modern Santa is pretty much a commercial icon birthed from various late 18th-19th century sources. Then there’s the Catholic saint Nicholas of Myra, famous for his generous gifts to the poor. But there is a pagan Santa. In Germanic paganism, we have Odin.
So how does this guy relate to Santa Claus? Well in Germanic tradition, Odin was said to lead a great hunting party through the sky during Yule, probably to prepare their Yuletide feast. There’s also a tradition where children fill boots with carrots, straw, or sugar, and place them on the chimney for Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, to feast on, and then Odin would reward their kindness with filling the emptied boots with gifts and/or candy.
Third, the Christmas tree. I’ve already got a snowy Yule tree up there, so no image here. Christmas trees never appeared in the Bible, but before the before the Bible, various cultures used evergreen trees and plants on the winter solstice, including Egypt (which apparently used evergreen to celebrate to the triumph of life over death), Rome in the form of Saturnalia, Britain with the Yule log, and among the Germanic peoples. The Christmas tree entered our culture when Saint Boniface saw a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree, or Thor’s oak. Angry at them for doing it, he ordered that the oak be cut down, and immediately a small tree sprouted from the middle of the oak stump. The saint then claimed it as their holy tree and a symbol of everlasting life. There was also, historically, a tree called Irminsul, it was venerated by Saxon tribes in Germany until Charlemagne ordered that it be destroyed as part of his campaign to subdue the Vikings and convert them to Christianity by the sword. As for the decorations, it may have been a later tradition.
No Biblical references for the mistletoe, nor for kissing under it. Like many Christmas traditions, this one has Germanic roots. There’s a Scandinvian legend about the god Baldr, a god of light and love whose one weakness was, believe it or not, mistletoe. Loki, the trickster, knowing this, killed him with a spear (though some say an arrow) tipped with mistletoe, and he died, resulting in Loki being bound to a rock under a venomous snake until the end of time. Many gods were saddened by Baldr’s death and wanted him to come back, and eventually, his mother, Frigg, restored his life and hung up a mistletoe, promising to kiss anyone who passed under it. Many traditions consider it a symbol of protection from poisons and malicious spirits. Even more amazing, ancient druid preists in Britain would use mistletoe and evergreen plants in ceremonies, and mistletoe was the symbol for the birth of a god. That is awesome.
Before I conclude, it should be noted that not all Christmas traditions and staples are pagan in origin, and some have more modern or relatively recent origins.
The pagan Christmas seems to be the cultural tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, and the return of light (the sun) after the longest night of the year, and people have celebrated it in different ways. But as I said, none of that is in the Bible, and it’s, ultimately, not Christian. But that doesn’t mean we should cancel Christmas. In fact, I think the real Christmas is more special and meaningful than a Christian Christmas. And it’s not changed at all in the modern world, except that it’s more commercialized and often centered around commercial icons.