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This image from Truth Saves is a little tongue-in-cheek but it makes claims to the real origins of several modern Christmas related traditions such as the tree and carols.

enter image description here

  • You don't need to believe in Yule, the Scandinavian fertility god, to enjoy the tradition of Yuletide carols and greetings.
  • You don't need to be a Wiccan to enjoy the tradition of wreaths or decking the halls with holly.
  • You don't need to be a Druid to enjoy the tradition of hoping for a kiss under the mistletoe.
  • You don't need to believe in the god Saturn to enjoy the tradition of decorating a Saturnalia tree in your home.
  • You don't need to believe in Thor, Odin or St. Nicholas to enjoy the tradition of a visitor bringing gifts at night.
  • You don't need to believe in Sleipnir, Odin's flying 8-legged horse, to enjoy the tradition of listening for the sound of hooves on your roof top.
  • You don't need to believe in Mithras to enjoy the tradition of celebrating the sun's rebirth on December 25th.
  • And you don't need to believe in Jesus Christ to enjoy the tradition of renaming this ancient holiday to Christ's Mass.

All you need to enjoy these winter festivities is to be merry.

Anyone have the skills to find out if they are all indeed the inarguable origins?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 35 down vote accepted
  • Yule: The word Yule comes into Modern English from the Old English ġéol and was a festival occurring around the Winter Solstice. See: Merriam Webster and Wikipedia. Conclusion: False

  • Wicca: There is no good reason to believe that Wicca predates Gerald Gardner in the 1950s (see Hutton's Triumph of the Moon and Aidan A. Kelly's Crafting the Art of Magic). Conclusion: False

  • Druid: The druids were religious figures within the cultures of Iron Age peoples who spoke Celtic languages. Saturnalia was a Roman pagan festival. See: Wikipedia page on Saturnalia and Druids. Conclusion: False.

  • Odin and Slepnir: There are clear influences on the pre-Coca-Cola-era Santa Claus that came from these figures. See: Wikipedia. Conclusion: True

  • Mithras: Mithras was associated with the sun and the celebration of the Sol Invictus was on the 25th of December. However this festival was not exclusive to Mithras. See: Wikipedia pages of Mithras and Sol Invictus. Conclusion: True.

While some of these are false, the fact remains that people do not like to let go of old habits and traditions just because they have converted to a new religion or when abandoning religion all together. Most of the traditions we associated today with Christmas have some sort of origin in pre-Christian folk customs or religious traditions.

In summary, I would not be willing to argue the veracity of every one of those points but that does not invalidate the point it is trying to make. As an atheist, I celebrate Christmas because it is a part of the culture I was raised in and has very good moral ideas associated with it. I don't have to believe in ghosts, zombies, and demons to have fun celebrating Halloween and I certainly don't need to be religious to think that the traditions of Christmas are a great way to spend time with my family. I don't have to believe in Valkyries to find Wagner beautiful, right? And I don't have to believe in the Christian god to continue and adapt the traditions of my ancestors who did the same with the traditions of their ancestors.

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One thing that I would point out here is that in some of the false claims the truth still applies to the point the original author of the image was trying to make any way. That person just got it wrong. –  Robert Kaucher Nov 30 '12 at 19:15
6  
Yeah, evergreen trees and holly and mistletoe have pretty much no symbolism in biblical Christianity; they largely come from the celebrations people would have anyway before Christians came around. It's kinda sad that whoever made the image got the sources so wrong. Why would you think wreaths originated with Wicca, of all things? –  Tacroy Nov 30 '12 at 20:11
    
Yeah, I should have known the initial one wouldn't pass. Lazy! –  Robert Kaucher Nov 30 '12 at 20:34
    
Note that the Wikipedia article on the topic gives Yule (Jolnir) as an alternative name for Odin in reference to the Yule festival so the first point is not as implausible. Odin wasn’t a fertility god though so that part is still wrong. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 30 '12 at 21:46
    
The English word Yule (from OE ġéol, etc) and its etymological equivalents in other languages are not strictly speaking the same word as Jolnir ("Yule figure"), although they are clearly etymologically related. Much in the same way that gelatin in English is clearly etymologically related to Portuguese gelo (ice). –  Robert Kaucher Dec 1 '12 at 3:09

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