No matter which holidays you celebrate, most holidays on the calendar have a history behind it. Most of these histories are steeped in debated origins; most with at least some minor link or curious similarity to pagan tradition. It’s the reason that within each faith system, there are people who choose not to participate in celebrations. Curious to see if your favorite holiday has pagan roots? Here are 25 Popular Holidays With Surprisingly Pagan Origins.
Out of all the holiday traditions with pagan roots represented on this list, this is probably the most well-known. In an attempt to keep followers from celebrating pagan traditions, Christians “re-purposed” many of the traditions surrounding this time of year.
While there is some debate, many historians tell that pagans celebrating the winter solstice would decorate their houses with evergreen trees and mistletoe.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, even though scholars will tell you he probably wasn’t born around this time. However, pagans celebrated the sun god, Odin, during this time. The celebrations in honor of Odin were easy to transfer and refocus on the birth of Jesus.
Also, while Santa Claus isn’t focused on in many Christian circles, it’s interesting to note that Odin is often shown as a big chubby dude with a white beard and flowing coat. Sound familiar?
The colors green and red along with the singing were also part of pagan traditions.
As you’ll soon start to see, many pagan festivals revolved around nature and the changing of seasons. The spring equinox is a time when the amount of darkness and the amount of daylight balance out and become more equal. Pagan festivals during this time celebrated new life and the end of winter. This isn’t a surprising theme for anything spring related. It wasn’t too long before Christians took this reflection of new life and the end of death (like during winter) and connected it to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
There’s also the story of Queen Semiramis and her son Tammus. Well get to that when we talk about Lent (Number 10).
Feast of Annuciation
Another springtime Christian tradition, this celebrates the announcement of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the son of God. Celebrated on March 25th, this feast usually happens around the time of Good Friday and Holy Week, which includes Easter. Basically the date of this holiday was advantageous to early Christians as it provided another opportunity to add Christian theology to a time of pagan rituals and celebration.
This holiday actually started out as the celebration of Samhain. It was the end of the harvest season and was a recognition of death and the start of the darkest part of the year. Many Celtic pagans also believed that spirits roamed the earth at this time and that the spirits of ancestors returned home. Costumes were to keep the spirits from recognizing the living; bonfires and sacrifices were to please the spirits and guarantee a good harvest for the next year.
The name “Halloween” actually comes from the Catholic tradition at this time. The church created “All hallow’s eve” or “allhallowmas” to honor those saints without a specific day already set aside. They chose the date, unsurprisingly, to make it easier to convert pagans at the time.
New Year's Day
New Year’s Day wasn’t always celebrated on January 1st. At one point in time, roughly 4,000 years ago, it was celebrated around March. Why March? Well, if you guessed because of change of season and balance of light and darkness, you are correct.
The ancient Babylonians celebrated this change with 11 days of ritual called Akitu. Akitu was held in honor of the victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat.
Photos: 25 pixabay (public domain), 24. wikimedia commons (public domain), 23. wikimedia commons (public domain), 22. pixabay (public domain), 21-20. pixabay (public domain), 19. Rene Trevino via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 18. vxla via flickr, CC B, Y 2.0, 17. Yoninah, Jerusalem Purim street scene, CC BY-SA 3.0, 16. max pixel (public domain), 15. Omer Wazir via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, 14. shutterstock, 13. georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov (public domain), 12. Quinn Dombrowski via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, 11. wikimedia commons (public domain), 10. jezobeljones via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 9. © Copyright William Starkey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence, 8. We Are Social via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 7. Shutterstock, 6. Setareha, Ramadan w, CC BY-SA 3.0, 5. Khokarahman, Diwali Festival, CC BY-SA 4.0, 4. wikimedia commons (public domain), 3. מינוזיג – MinoZig, Shofar in Rosh Hashanah, CC BY-SA 4.0, 2. jpmpinmontreal via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 1. Shakko, Nativity john baptist, CC BY-SA 3.0