Ahh, Christmas. The snow, the joy, the merriment, the massive orgy in the woods. If one of those things seems a little off, than I’d like to ask you how much you really know about the origins of Christmas.
“Well, Sarah, it all starts when Mary and Joseph had to travel to Jerusalem -“
That’s where I’m going to stop you, because you’re dead wrong. You have been brainwashed by the Catholic Church, even if you aren’t Catholic. As a former Catholic and current pagan, I have been invited by the lovely Peachy Keen editors to educate you all on the true meaning of Christmas: distracting ourselves from the fear of the cold, starvation, and darkness by throwing wild sex parties around massive bonfires.
I want to make this clear now. I have been pagan for about a year, focusing on the Celtic and Norse pantheon. I have read about the Romans and Greeks, because, who hasn’t? I don’t know a ton about the Egyptians, or any religions on the eastern side of the world, so I don’t claim to be an expert by any means. I also want to point out that I’m doing this Drunk History style. I’ve got a beer and I’m just gonna talk out of my ass for awhile about a subject I truly love, exposing the Catholic Churches hidden secrets.
So, first and foremost: Jesus was not born in December. Not even close. The mention of a shepherd out with his flock is your first indication that this is probably closer to July or August, because if we go back to 8th grade ecology, we’ll remember that deserts are freakishly hot in the day time and dangerously cold in the night time, and while I have lived my whole life in the temperate forest we know as the Midwest, I can take a decent guess that those dangerously cold nights are even colder in winter. And, something some of you may not know, sheep are usually brought much closer to home in the winter so that they can be easily accessed for their wool and watched more closely, as prey is scarce in the winter and the predators will be more likely to come up to a large flock in the middle of nowhere rather than up in a village or city. So, now that we’re done with our crash course in sheep husbandry, it makes much more sense that this account of angels and sheep and God’s chosen son was more closely tied in with bathing suit season than hot cocoa and snuggling weather.
“Ok, so if Jesus was born in the summer, then why do we celebrate his birthday in the middle of winter?”
Excellent question! Do you know what, aside from Christmas, is happening in mid December?
Most notably is the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Imagine, you’re an ancient human from your area of choice in the northernmost Northern Hemisphere (that’s right, I’m not letting you get away with saying Jamaica so you can get out of this thought experiment). The days are getting shorter, colder, and hungrier. Your crops have all been harvested and stored, you’re collecting what food you can but your haul comes back smaller and smaller each time. I’m sure you’d start to get worried and sad, hoping you have enough to feed your family until the thaw. You begin to lose hope. So one of your neighbors comes up with an idea. “Hey, why don’t we light a huge fire on the shortest day to make it last longer. We can dance and sing and get drunk and… fool around. You know, to appease the gods.”
So the first guy to come up with this idea may have been a bit of a perv, much like the guy who figured out how to get milk, but it starts to catch on. In the midst of the darkness, you and your family and friends create your own light. You ask your gods to hurry up the winter (much like Groundhog’s Day), and you start giving offerings. A goose, some roasted chestnuts, whatever you can spare and emerge into the warmth of spring in a few months. And some of these gods preferred more… carnal offerings. And as people of faith tend to do, they delivered. They delivered to the point that when the Church sent missionaries out to the Celts and the Norse, they were appalled. These winter festivals of sex and merriment went against their whole schtick of “Suffer now be happy later.” So if they were going to get these people to accept Catholicism, they were going to have to rebrand these sex festivals. They let them live in tandem for a while, but eventually push came to shove and Yule and whatever Christmas was originally (I believe it was a day of fasting and penance much like Lent was meant to be) merged and the people decided to only keep the fun parts.
They kept a lot of the elements that we still know today, candles and fire and yule logs to burn through the long night instead of immense bonfires. A lot of people may already know this, but in Germanic and Norse regions, they would go and decorate the fir trees outside with trinkets and food to appease the forest spirits into helping them through. The excess of Christmas dinner and sweets comes from the principle of manifestation. If they were gluttonous and frivolous with their supplies on the darkest of nights, they must be prosperous next year. It was like a taunt to the gods I guess. “Look at us, we’re eating so much and it’s only the start of the cold, we must be so prosperous!”
Now for Santa. This is a one for one substitution. While there was a real Turkish man that would give money and trinkets to the poor, he is not the inspiration for Mr. Claus. No, that right is reserved for the All Father, Odin. That’s right, Thor’s gruff weird father who knows the secrets of the end of the world becomes jolly old saint Nick for Jól, the Norse word for the winter feast. Odin would go and reward his faithful servants with gifts. It may not have been the new PS5, but for Norse peoples it was a hope in a dark place. Hell, they didn’t even go that far from the source material. Odin’s eight legged horse equals Santa’s eight reindeer. Odin is even depicted frequently in a red suit and a wide brimmed hat. So I guess that makes Mrs. Clause Frigga, which I can get behind.
So, we’ve covered the Christmas tree, Santa Claus and his reindeer (which, by the way would be in rutting season at this time of year and the males would be extremely dangerous and also, have no horns due to shedding them. So just know that all of Santa’s reindeer have to be female), the yule log, the festive eating, and the fact that NONE OF IT CONTAINS JESUS. Not that Jesus wasn’t an amazing historical figure, but I feel like he may not be thrilled that we all celebrate his half birthday by giving gifts to each other while dressed as a Norse god and practicing ritualistic manifestation. So happy holidays, because while Christmas may seem like one holiday, it is the descendant of so many winter festivals and celebrations that there isn’t really a true “Christ” in Christmas. Celebrate the longest night of the year the way you want to, whether that’s honoring the Roman martyr, dressing like the All Father, or drinking the night away like the ancients.
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