Christmas Traditions with Pagan Origins


Liz Odife, Staff Writer

Gift-giving and the belief in a chubby man in a red suit jumping down your chimney at two in the morning are some of the many Christmas traditions that have been celebrated for years. People often believe that such traditions originated from Christianity. However, a quick dive into some religious history and this belief can be disproven.

Christmas was originally meant to celebrate the birth of Christ, but half of the traditions have no correlation to the birth of a baby. Why kiss someone under a plant to celebrate a newborn child whose mother surely experienced the pains of childbirth?

Gift-giving has been a common practice in a multitude of cultures and religions. However, it is most commonly associated with and can be dated back to Saturnalia, an ancient Roman Pagan celebration. Saturnalia was a holiday to honor the agricultural god Saturn. Schools and businesses were closed, gambling addictions were at a high, and relatively normal social patterns were discarded. Thus, sometimes servants would have their masters serve them and would not be required to work during the week of the celebration.

During Saturnalia, Romans would decorate their homes in wreaths and greenery as well as the mistletoe, of which the tradition was a bit more intense than it is now. On the final day that was known as the Sigillaria, friends would give one another small gifts for good luck, these gifts often being small terracotta figures.

Not only was gift-giving originally Pagan, but so was the belief in the man in red, now known as Santa. Before St. Nicholas, the bishop who gave gifts to the poor and had a long beard, there was the religious belief in the deity Odin. Germanic Pagan tribes worshipped Odin and it was believed that he rewarded children with presents in their little stockings. He would only reward them if the stockings were originally filled with food for his eight-legged horse. This carried onto the modern way people view Santa and filling stockings.

While these traditions listed hardly scratch the surface of the origins, it does provide insight into how much we owe the Pagans for influencing the creation of such a beautiful holiday. Therefore it’s important to do research and appreciate the traditions for their origins as well. Had it not been for them and their religious practices, Christmas as we know it would not be the same as it is now.