Monday, October 23rd 2017

Christmas a pagan holiday? Yule be surprised

Bill O’Reilly’s Christmas crusade, Toys ‘R’ Us and twelve pagan ways we celebrate the holidays

BY DANNY KENNY — The New Year bodes ill for both Bill O’Reilly and Toys ‘R’ Us, as one is going half off the air and the other could be going out of business whole-hog.  But at least the latter, Toys ‘R’ Us, is in the business of trying to make people’s Christmas happy.

Bill O’Reilly, on the other hand, thinks the Holidays just won’t be the same without The Tree, Santa, the gifts of appreciation, the mistletoe and holly, etc. These are the things he claims are threatened with extinction by the so-called ‘war on Christmas.’

But I guess he doesn’t realize that these traditions he’s apparently missing from his Irish Catholic childhood are thoroughly pagan in origin, some dating back 4,000 years. Which begs the question: So, Bill, what in the name of Jesus are Yule celebrating?

My fellow loud-mouthed Irishman famously asks, “Do they know it’s Christmas time (at all)?” But I’m starting to wonder if O’Reilly does? Like many Irish-Americans, I think he has a misty-eyed view of the Ould Country.

So be careful what you wish for, Bill. I remember when I was an angelic little altar boy back home, me Mammy threatened me by saying, “If you don’t get up that road to Mass you’ll grow up to be a proper bloody Pagan!”

At the time I — and perhaps, she — had no real idea what that meant, but it sounded really bad and certainly put the fear of God into both of us . . . until 20 years or so later, when she proudly attended my Pagan Wedding as guest of honor (May her God Bless her)!

As a young fella I always loved Christmas, and back then my Mam always made a great Christmas for us kids . . . ‘just like the ones ‘e used to know.’ (All together now . . . I feel a traditional Christmas song coming. Okay enough already! That’s why we pay carol singers to go away!)

But if a tree, gifts, a fat bloke with a white beard and kissing under the mistletoe sounds like your idea of an idyllic Christmas — minus “Bada Bing Crosby” (who was famously Catholic) — I bear glad tidings you’re a Pagan!

The addition of Christ to the celebration of the winter solstice did not occur until 300 years after Christ died. In fact some devout Christian sects like the Puritans, forbade their members from celebrating Christmas, because it was considered a pagan holiday. So what is the history behind these traditions?


  1. The Date
  2. The Virgin birth
  3. The Tree
  4. The Gifts
  5. Santa
  6. The primary colors: red, white and green
  7. The Mistletoe
  8. The lights and the witches balls (tree ornaments)
  9. The Star or Fairy at the top of the tree
  10. The Robin
  11. Yule log
  12. The twelve days of Christmas

The date and the Virgin birth:

YULE, circa Dec 22nd, was when Pagans celebrated (and still do) the rebirth of the God from the Virgin Goddess (sound familiar?). Even the term “virgin” is mis-leading, as it originally did not mean a woman who hadn’t had sex, but applied to priestesses during Rome’s pre-Christian period.

These women were not bound by secular law, were free to take all the lovers they chose and were beholden to no man. “Yule,” a Nordic word, literally means wheel. In other words, it’s not a type of wood, as in Yule log; it symbolized the turning of the year from darkness into light.

The tree and The Gifts:

As I said above, the Christmas tree is derived from several solstice traditions.

The tradition of giving gifts came from Saturnalia, a New Years Festival of Pagan Rome; gifts were given in honour of loved ones who died during the previous year. They would exchange good-luck gifts called Stenae (lucky fruits). They also would have a big feast just like we do today.

Santa and the red, white and green:

The Pagan Holly King is the sacrificial Pagan God who becomes the Goddess’s consort at Yule, and dies with the fading light of Winter Solstice (to be reborn 3 days later as The Oak King). His image is informed by the symbolic pagan woodsman colors: red, white, green and black. They were adopted by Santa, a.k.a St. Nicholas, whose feast day is actually Dec 6th. But hey, if you’re a kid getting pressies who cares?

The mistletoe, the lights and the Witches balls

Mistletoe, holly and pine were all fertility symbols used by Pagans and Druids, and had been part of Yule celebrations for 1,000′s of years.

Mistletoe was used in an ancient Druid custom at the winter solstice because it was considered a divine plant and symbolized love and peace. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is Druid in origin.

The lights represented the birth of the new God and the return of the light on the shortest day of the year; the lights on a Christmas tree is a carry-over from candles and fires lit by Pagans in symbolic rituals to lure back the waning Sun.

Witches balls are hollow glass ornaments popular in parts of Europe in the 18th century, but their origin is much older. They were designed to ward off evil spirits and ill wishes that were directed at your family. Hanging these balls in windows was thought to tantalize spirits because of their colors, and trap them inside of the bulb when they touched it, forever holding the marauding spirit hostage.

The Star or fairy on the tree and the Christmas robin

Again, this is not a Christian creation. The Star of David, the Jewish six-pointed star we put on top of the tree, symbolizes the perfect union between male and female. The inverted triangle represents the feminine (Shekinah); the upturned phallic triangle represents the male (Yahweh). In Pagan Ireland, as in many places around the world, we love Fairies because our people looked to them to grant a Christmas wish.

The Robin

In Irish Celtic folklore and mythology, The Robin (seen on many a Christmas card) symbolically kills the wren to signify the return of light. A contemporary reminder of this is the wren boys, who disguise themselves with straw, and dance and play musi. These characters still appear in Irish bars, from Shannon to San Francisco, on December 26th, St. Stephens Day.

The Yule log and The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Scandinavian solstice traditions had a lot of influences on our celebration, besides the hanging of ornaments on evergreen trees. Their ancient festival was called Yuletide, and again, celebrated the return of the sun. One of their traditions was the Yule log. Traditionally made from oak, three holes house candles of red, white and black.

Three is the symbol of the triple Goddess. She represents the three phases of womanhood: maiden, mother and crone: White for the maiden, red for the mother and black for the crone.

The log was the center of the trunk of a tree that was dragged to a large fireplace where it was supposed to burn for twelve days. From this comes the twelve days of Christmas, immortalized in song and Bill Shakespeare’s very Pagan Twelfth Night. The festival of Twelfth Night is part of the Roman Saturnalia, the Feast of Fools and there can be little doubt that the license that marked this occasion had its origin in very ancient pagan customs. As Christianity spread across Europe, some of the old traditions took centuries to die out but the feast of the Epiphany on January 6 retained a Saturnalian flavor for many centuries.

Now that we’ve got all that outta the way! How about a nice mince pie and a festive glass of eggnog before you head off to Midnight Mass?

Hope Y’all have a cool Yule now, ya hear!

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16 Comments on “Christmas a pagan holiday? Yule be surprised”

  1. Are we sheep or what? Will people ever delve deeper into the meanings of their sacred texts before espousing authority about divinity??? MERRY CHRISTMAS Y'ALL!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS TOO!!

  2. I love this article! To me it just shows that pagans have had the "last laugh." It obviously takes a lot to rid the world of their evil, evil influences. Keep up the good work all you pagans :) !

  3. Good job, Danny boy! I'm gonna get some great mileage outta this...

  4. Like the Irish, Finns are also heavily into oral tradition and folklore. Here is one account of Yule and a solstice Santa, but keep in mind that this folklore varies from village to village, and would've been different even a couple of generations -- going backward in time, or forward:

    The word Joulupukki means "Yule Goat" and probably derives from an old Finnish tradition where people called nuuttipukkis dressed in goat hides circulated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto, rather than sneaking in through the chimney at night. When he comes in, his first words are usually "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?", "Are there (any) good (well-behaved) children here?". Presents are given and opened immediately. He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick.

  5. Very interesting! Although I have read from other sources that the Xmas tree was in fact "invented" by Christians- as early pagans did not in fact have an actual "tree" inside their houses.... although pagan in origin in that the tree could represent having boughs etc. in the house.

    I have a question- do other pagans say 'Happy Yule!' to Xmas well-wishers? I have tried this several times.... meets with some interesting comments. Just wondering if anyone else feels a little twinge of guilt when they cave and say 'Merry Christmas' too... )O(

  6. The 12 reasons are why it's funny that many Christians are so against pagans....ironic isn't it?

  7. Christmas is more Pagan than people realize. Unfortunately, two very elderly ladies I knew wouldn't have a Christmas tree - because it was TOO pagan. Seems the only people who know about that are the ones who are anti-pagan(:

    I use “Happy Yule” and get some interesting looks. I think some people think I mean "Noel" but unless I know full well the person is very anti-pagan/witch etc. I don't cave in to the Merry Christmas. I use Happy Holiday or something similar if I feel it's better to keep my mouth shut about being a witch:)

  8. i woudn't say this is a cover-up, but it's so easy for the misled, to be misled. all religion starts at school, children are taught about every religion going, oh yeah and they used to burn witches, hmmm never could cook christmas dinner properly, lol seriously guys check this out

  9. This is one of the reasons I have been able to embrace paganism!! I feel that I can still stick to some of my Christian roots while celebrating my new found path!! The best of both worlds!! :)

  10. "All we are saying is give us a chance"...........and if there's one lesson to be learnt from the Irish Peace process it's that everyone has a voice and needs to be heard. So whether you like what I have to say or not is entirely up to you. I just think its wonderful that people read it and feel motivated enought to comment, in whichever way they feel moved to do so. Because there is only one Pagan tenet "Do what you will but harm none" and I mean no harm to anyone.
    But Paganism is not something that was eradicated in 'The Dark Ages" and by shining a light on it now, I hope it helps to illuminate people and maybe prevent them from condemning it from the darkest place of all: the darkness of ignorance and bigotry.
    Beannachatai na feile ( That's Happy Holidays by the way ;in any language )

    Danny Boy

  11. It should not be surprising that many symbols of Christmas are pagan in nature. Paganism predates Christ. Christians brought the message of salvation to a world ruled by Roman who were steeped in paganism. That being said, the origins of Santa Claus are predominantly Christian.

    Saint Nicholas was a second century bishop from Turkey. He wore a red bishop's cloak, rode on a white horse, and carried a mitre (bishop's staff). His birthday was celebrated on the 6th of December.
    When Dutch settlers came to North America, they brought the tradition of celebrating the birthday of this generous,Catholic saint. The celebration of Sinterklaas was separate from the celebration of Christmas.
    In 1822 Clement Moore published the poem, "A visit from St. Nicholas" which became known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Santa Claus replaced Sinterklaas merging the two festivities and a new traditon was born.

    To say that Santa Claus has pagan origins is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

    1. Evert: Clearly you are not aware of the many parallels that exist between Catholic saints and Pagan spirits and deities. You might delve a bit more deeply into the origins of the Church.

  12. The true meaning of Christmas for Christians is that Jesus was born to save us from our sins (sin is rebellion against God). Math 1 v 21. For Christians the celebration of this is not limited to a special time of the year, it is something we celebrate all year round.

    This also explains the meaning to Christians:
    Johnn 3:16-21 (NIV)
    16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,f that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
    18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.g
    19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
    20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
    21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”h

    f Or his only begotten Son

    g Or God’s only begotten Son

    h Some interpreters end the quotation after verse 15.

    [1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Zondervan: Grand Rapids

    This is my gift to all who would like to take it : The good news about Jesus Christ.

    1. On the other hand, it doesn't make sense that Christmas is more important than Easter to most Christians, since the most important aspect of Jesus's time on earth was when he died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead. Easter should be y'all's biggest holiday, not Christmas.

  13. Dana-Easter is a pagan holiday. Actually the two go hand and hand.

  14. I love this article! It is well written and easy to follow. Thank you for posting and I will spread it along as well. Not being a Christian I have always had to justify why I celebrate Christmas. I would always say that I celebrate an American holiday tradition without the church. It is what I grew up with. It wasn't until much later I understood that the parts of the holiday that I love were rooted in pagan traditions. LOVE IT!

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