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Did Christianity really steal Christmas from Pagans?

I've seen a lot of people make this claim - that Christians stole the celebration of Christmas from the Pagans. Although, I agree that most of our traditions for this celebration have an historical base in Pagan traditions, I think the reason this happened was less pre-meditated and nefarious.

My understanding was that many early Christians converted from Pagan faiths. Yes, some did "by the sword", but the vast majority did out of free choice. As the early Christians were used to having traditional and beloved Yule-type activities, and those activities did not counter the teachings of their new faith, they kept them. Including the celebration to honor the birth of Jesus with their celebration of Yule was more of an addition, like our addition of big sale events to the celebration of Presidents' Day.

Is there evidence that the early Christian church really went "after" Yule in order to "steal" it from Pagans? Or does the Pagan influence over the celebration of Christmas merely reflect the historical population of the early Church?


Asked by Dr.Donna at 9:07 AM on Dec. 9, 2010 in Religious Debate

Level 26 (26,309 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (36)
  • Well I think we have to remember the history of the official establishment of the Church - Constantine came in and turned Christianity from a persecuted faith into the endorsed faith of the Empire. It wasn't the church seducing anyone, it was a mutual seduction, a relationship where both sides were willing to give into each other in terms of power and authority, etc. Not all of the Christians were forced to convert. Many rushed to join once the Empire endorsed it. I think its very important to look at the way the political/religious relationship really was in those beginning stages...

    I do think, considering many of those who were Christian in those areas were Pagan converts (look at the "fathers of the faith", for example, Augustine, Constantine (who wasn't a theologian, but important nonetheless)) who were used to a more syncretic way of thought. So why would they have issue with blending their old faith with the new?

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 9:59 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • They didn't steal it per se,they integrated the 2 holidays into one

    Answer by butterflyblue19 at 9:09 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • Early Christianity co-opted a lot of Pagan and their rituals and made them about Christ and God in order to make the transition of local Pagans easier.

    Answer by CraftingMama at 9:10 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • It wasn't an intentional re-assigning of Christian beliefs to each piece of Yule. On the contrary, it was outlawed. The first settlers in North America outlawed Christmas completely because of all the Yule traditions people kept using - it almost prevented the states from agreeing to be one country, people felt THAT strongly about it. So, it's a question of how you look at it - did they steal them intentionally? No. But it is a direct result of cultural oppression and criminalization, and a battle that ultimately they lost - they invent stories now that try to suggest traditional Yule aspects have some secret Christian symbolism, but there's no truth to them, it's the exact opposite. It was always about people pretending to be Christian for survival, not about actual belief.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 9:29 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • Monarchies converted because the church offered them sainthood, absolute salvation, etc etc. They were bribed by the church to convert. After conversion, they passed laws making celebration of the original holidays illegal and punishable by death. That's when people started hiding their faith - the decorated trees were never killed until they were outlawed - they were just decorated where they stood. People began cutting the trees down and hiding them inside so they wouldn't get caught. They paid lipservice to Christianity so their kids wouldn't be killed, but they didn't really convert. After many generations, the distinction became lost, and those kids who grew up with a tree hidden in the living room while the Church kept hammering them with Happy Birthday Jesus eventually came to associate the tree with Christmas (and everything else - holly, wreaths, votives, presents, giant party, etc).

    Answer by NotPanicking at 9:25 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • It's also worth noting that the "vast majority" did NOT convert of their own free will. Most converted seemingly of their own free will to Christianity, and were outwardly Christian, they taught their children Christianity. But they did this as a way to preserve their lands, their family and their lives. Just because someone doesn't have a sword to their neck doesn't mean they aren't converting out of fear. As Christianity gained power, mostly through force, governments made it mandatory to convert. If people didn't they risked everything. Charlemagne for example introduced laws which sentenced anyone not living a Christian Life to be put to death, along with their families. What this meant was that even if the people didn't believe this way, they didn't dare not act like they did. In fact in one day he ordered the deaths of 4500 men (plus their families) simply for cremating a body, and people knew it - so why risk it?

    Answer by SabrinaMBowen at 10:28 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • So, what should Christians do today?

    Honestly? Mind their own business, celebrate their holiday they way they want, and quit pretending it is their place to "allow" others to celebrate their own (this applies, of course, to the generalize SOME not ALL who behave in that manner, etc etc).

    Answer by NotPanicking at 10:59 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • They didn't steal it, they just modified their own beliefs to coincide with pagan holidays. In doing so, they were snuffing out pagan celebrations and converting people to their own religion.

    Answer by Shanna84 at 9:10 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • I guess it depends on your definition of stealing. Taking something which is important to someone else, putting your name on it and calling it yours is stealing in my book...

    Yule is the celebration of the birth of the Sun God, so it makes sense that it would be the easiest celebration to alter in order to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. But that still doesn't make it Christian. It makes it an altered Pagan Holiday with a Christian label... The traditions we associate with Christmas today are ALL primarily Pagan as well, so again, even if we call them Christian, it doesn't make them so.

    The tree, stockings by the fire, ornaments, lights, candles, Yule Log, Santa & his reindeer, and of course the idea of this being the birth of God (as stated) are and were all Pagan long before the Christians came along. Now, did it start out that they were simply borrowed & not returned? Sure, but they still belong to Pagans...

    Answer by SabrinaMBowen at 10:23 AM on Dec. 9, 2010

  • No, it was the Roman Catholics, I think. They tried to ease the pagans into their religion and when that didn't work, they ended up slaughtering people.

    Answer by Shanna84 at 9:17 AM on Dec. 9, 2010