Monday, April 03, 2006

Christmas Origins and Rituals, and other Modern Holidays Influenced by Ancient Pagan Celebrations

Pagan History Comparison Christianity

If you peek up the skirts of some modern and Christian holidays, you may be surprised to find, that many of the lacey underpinnings were created from ancient pagan celebrations...

Groundhog Day / Brigid / Candlemas

Groundhog day/Brigid/Candlemas, is celebrated on February 2nd. Spring has just starting to make a showing, and this is where that prickly old weather predictor the hedgehog peeks his snout out of his ground dwelling to tell us how much longer we need to put up with winters chill.

"Wait a minute" you say, "Punxsutawney Phil's not a hedgehog, dang it, he's a groundhog, are you, daft"? (Yes I am)
In the "old country" on the other side of the globe (in Europe),where this rather primitive (silly) form of weather forcasting began, pagans and simple country folk, poised themselves, every February 2nd above the cozy little underground hovel of the shy little hedgehog. There they quietly lurked, until he sprouted, like an organic jack in the box, for a brief look-see. If he saw his shadow, thus frightening himself back into his home, there would be six more weeks of winter. If instaed, he comes out and starts rooting around for grubs, there would be an early spring, and everone would go home happy.

As europeans began to swarm the America's, they brought with them many of their superstitions, and traditions, one of them being "Hedgehog Day" (Ok, so it's not really Hedgehog day, per say).
Of coarse, hedgehogs not being indigenous to this continent, necessity (and their new found American ingenuity) found them the groundhog as a reasonable substitute.

"That's all fine and good", you say "but just what, does a ground dwelling varmint, have to do with the Sabbat Briged?
Fair question. Traditionally, this is when the first signs of spring are springing. The days are growing longer, the trees are beginning to bud, and the baby God (born at Yule), is growing like a little crocus sprout. It is at this point, that the pagans, impatient for a fully sprung, spring, turn to this curious little beastie for the scoop on how much longer, winter's cold bite will be in the air.

Not much has changed since then. We still lie in wait, for the poor little critter to poke his snout out of the comfort of his home every February 2nd. Only now we do it in Punxsutawney, PA, where dear little Phil, puts up with yet another showing, of silly humans (some in top hats) impatiently waiting for his weather report. Oh, and now we report it live on CNN news...

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
Old Scottish Poem


Easter / Ostara

Easter commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. So what’s with all the bunny's, eggs and marshmallow peeps? The symbolism of bunnies, eggs and sweet little baby lambs, mark the spring equinox Sabbat, known as Ostara. Pagans created the name Ostara from the Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre, whose symbols were the hare (bunny) and the egg (chocolate). The hare symbolized fertility and virility (for reasons to obvious to mention), and the egg symbolizing new life (and the cosmic sugar egg of creation).

Ostara celebrates the return of spring around the 21rst of March. With springs bloom, come the births of cute baby farm animals, like the spring lambs, and chicken hatchlings etc. It is no coincidence then that we see marshmallow chicks, chocolate eggs, baby bunnies and lambs, as the symbols used for decoration and gift baskets at this time of year.

The tie in with the resurrection of Christ comes from another part of the Ostara myth. It celebrates the return of certain deities, from the underworld, where they have been in stasis all winter long.

The end of winter, I believe, is plenty enough cause for celebration. But, add to that, the thrill of the hunt for chocolate bunnies, over done hardboiled eggs; eagerly colored the night before, by sticky, fumbling little fingers of giggling children; add one neighborhood dad, willing to don the bunny suit, and well... now you've got a real hoot-a-nanny!


Halloween / Samhain

Halloween is the eve of the pagan new year Samhain, which is Gaelic for summer's end. It really is more representative of end of the old year, than the start of the new one.

Some old Celtic traditions don't celebrate the New Year until Yule. For them, the period between Samhain and winter solstice is a time full of magic.

Traditionally, Samhain is a day to remember, and honor, loved ones, and ancestors who have passed on into the nether regions of death.

The Christian Church created All Saint's Day (November 1) as a holy day to recognize all the Catholic saints, the idea being, if you cant take the Sabbat out of the pagan, take the pagan out of the Sabbit, by turning it into a Christian holiday. Even so, many of the old Halloween traditions are still very much alive and well today.

Some things are just too fun to give up.


Christmas / Yule

Ever wonder where the term Yule came from? The Yule Sabbat, around the 22nd of December is the celebration of Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year, and the mid point of the difficult, cold winter season.

Yule welcomes the lengthening of the days, as they march toward the thaw of spring, when the air is warm with sunshine, the breeze perfumed with roses, and the birds find cause to sing high up in the trees again.

How does it tie in with Christmas? The tie in comes with the myth of the god who dies on Samhain, and is reborn on Yule. The Christian story of the birth of Jesus has simply been substituted for the pagan story of the God reborn.

The tradition of Yule logs and wreaths, are also left over from this pagan holiday. Even gift giving is part (and parcel) of this ancient celebration, which also ties in nicely with the story of the three wise men, offering their gifts, to the newborn messiah, Jesus.

Whatever the cause, we still gift and receive as in the days of old, and mulled wine is good for the soul whatever the celebration may be. Perhaps, even in our modern day society (and probably because of it), we still need a reason, when the days are dark and short, to find some gratitude and cheer, to ward off that old demon depression, in the cold winter months.

And what could be more cheerful then receiving a warm friendly smile, flushed with brandy wine, from the cute little third floor receptionist, at the office x-mass party? How angelic she appears, as she sits demurely on the Xerox machine printing out "Best Holiday Wishes" for each and every one her co-workers.

Ah Christmas, a wonderful holiday, ripe with the spirit of giving and receiving.

Oh, and one more thing, there is no Sanity Clause...

How did this happen?

You may be wondering how Christian holidays become so tightly interwoven with pagan Sabbat celebrations. The truth is a little bit sneaky. Christianity in its the first few hundred years, though gaining momentum with the nobles, and aristocracies of Europe, was still struggling to become an accepted religion by the simple peasantry and serfs. Unwilling to give up their ancient traditions for the New Faith, the church decided to meet them partway, by leaving the traditional dates and symbols in place and tweaking the names and the reasons for the celebrations. In that way they where able to homogenize the old pagan beliefs with that of the new religion of Christianity.

I told you there wasn't a "Sanity Clause"...

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Nilphoenix said...

In college, my second major was Philosophy and Religion, and I've always been fascinated in mythology, and different world religions, especially the lesser known Pagan religions, usually referred to as being "occult." I have to tell you that I find your blog fascinating. You have great information here, and your writing style is spectacular. I have linked to you from my blog. Hope you don't mind.

Spooks said...

Thank you for you’re in-put, and of coarse I don't mind the linkage to you’re blog.
Please let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to take a poke at in regards to so called “occult” matters. As long as I have a stick, I’ll poke anything once.
Regards, Tracy