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?
Here are 12 reasons why ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS, THE PAGANS GAVE TO ME:
- The Date
- The Virgin birth
- The Tree
- The Gifts
- The primary colors: red, white and green
- The Mistletoe
- The lights and the witches balls (tree ornaments)
- The Star or Fairy at the top of the tree
- The Robin
- Yule log
- 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.
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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