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Merry Christmas, You’re a Pagan: 12 Holiday Traditions and their Pagan Origins

Updated: Jan 12

The season of celebration and traditions during the Month of December are deeply rooted in Pagan beliefs that predate the birth of our homeboy Jesus. When we say ‘pagan’ we mean it is a person who holds beliefs that are outside of main world religions. The word has a history of being used as a way to label non believers from believers but really, we all have our ‘pagan ways’. The most popular winter traditions we are accustomed to all originated from pagan rituals and beliefs. What we now call Christmas is a great collection of ancient pagan culture and rituals that have since been adopted into ‘Christmas’ ever since Mary had to explain to her husband why she popped out a holy baby and 3 random men came to bring gifts.

1. The Winter Solstice and the Season of Yuletide

The last season to complete our yearly cycle starts with the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year and a time that symbolizes death and rebirth. The Winter Solstice is a time that has been celebrated all over the world for centuries, and for us in the West, we know it as Yuletide or Christmas. Yuletide is the celebration of the return of the ‘sun’ and the start of a new year and new cycle. The feasts, gift exchanges, parties, adorning, and honoring/worshiping were (and still are) part of “The Festival of Rebirth and The Return of the Sun”. With the ‘long night’ that comes with the Winter Solstice also comes nightly activities. In European folklore there is this shared story about the ‘wild hunt’ that goes hand in hand with the night of the winter solstice. This is when magical creatures all have the freedom to come out to play, deliver gifts and tricks. Our traditions of lighting candles, logs, creating wreaths and leaving out cookies, all steam from protection rituals to ward off the curious creatures from entering the home who like to play tricks on you, like elves. As Christianity expanded and grew in power, the Winter Solstice celebration was transformed from the welcoming of the SUN to the birth of the ‘Invincible SON’. The date moved to December 25th when Pope Julius 1 said so… no really. Apparently in the beginning the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated at all (probably because Mary was in hiding so no one knows the actual day he was born ) but Jan 6th was celebrated, the day the three Wise Men showed up and saw baby Jesus.

2. The Yule log

The Yule log was burnt on the night of the winter Solstice, which is the shortest day and longest night of the year. The log was lit to protect the household during the long night (this is beginning to sound a lot like Game of Thrones) and the spirits who have freedom to roam. The selecting of the Yule log was a ceremony in itself. It was usually selected at the beginning of the Yule Season and left to sit out as a decoration until it was time to burn it. They were decorated with evergreen branches, pine cones, holly sprigs, and candles. Depending on where you lived, the traditional Yule log varied. If you were in England, it was