Several years ago I got interested in the origin of Halloween and decided to write about it and Easter. I had planned to do one on Christmas and had compiled all the notes, but at the same time my brother and I started a podcast that ran for two years so all my research efforts went into that. Then I realized I never posted any of that here. So I’m going to do that. But first some thoughts.
To be fair when I started this project I figured I’d find that all Christian holidays were a hundred percent pagan in origin. My working hypothesis was pretty standard. Either early non-Jewish Christians retained their traditions when they converted or the Catholic church just slapped a thin veneer of crosses and Jesus over existing cultural traditions and told people to carry on. When I was a teenager my young evangelical mind had a really hard time with this concept. If it was pagan, you shouldn’t really mix it with Christianity right? Well I’ve grown up and seen that things like the Eucharist and baptism didn’t originate inside the Judeo-Christian world, so we’d have to throw those things out too.
Now that I’ve researched a lot of this stuff, I’m finding that it was a more complex situation. Sometimes something seemed like it originated outside of Christianity but some things came about long after a population converted, or we may have no idea when something started. There’s a carving of a giant footprint in Sri Lanka that at least four different religions have made up a different story about it to ‘depaganize’ it. The Buddhists, Christians and Muslims all claim it was one of their saints (Though I guess both Muslims and Christians hold Adam in the same regard, I do not know how Islam feels about St. Thomas) and the Hindus believe it to be that of Lord Shiva. It really means that the footprint is something sacred, maybe even holy, and they have all agreed to keep it around, and have constructed a story to legitimize their reasons for doing so. I think it’s the same thing with these holidays.
Christmas is far more complicated than Easter or Halloween. With those there are dates you can look at. There’s definite documentation for when Halloween started. Easter is the defining holiday of the faith so it’s relatively simple to sift through all that.
Since Christianity actually cares nothing about the birth of Jesus, only his death and resurrection, Christmas is harder to pin down in its origin. Halloween was definitely started because of a big church dedication, and Easter is just Passover. The day of Jesus birth was important, but it didn’t have enough importance while he was alive for anyone to ask him about it and write it down. Point is, no one even began to care until long after he was gone.
So in the next few articles I’m going to take apart a few of the claims about Christmas and see if there’s anything to the claim that it’s just a big ol’ pagan holiday meant to deceive you into worshipping the devil!