11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity

Mitch
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Have you ever wondered about the origins of some of our most beloved holidays? Much of what we celebrate today has roots that run deep into the fertile soil of ancient pagan traditions. Are you ready to delve into the delightful mix of the arcane and the familiar?

Spoiler alert! 11 of your favorite holidays might have a wilder past than you ever imagined.

Christmas

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Ah, Christmas! The quintessential holiday of twinkling lights, feasts aplenty, and gifts under a festively adorned evergreen tree. The practice of decorating homes with evergreens during winter goes back to the Druids, the priests of ancient Celtic tribes, who revered evergreens as the symbol of eternal life during the winter solstice.

Meanwhile, our German ancestors used to honor their god, Woden, with decorated trees during Yule, their midwinter festival. Moving south to Rome, they held the Saturnalia festival, where they decorated their homes with greens and lights. So, next time you’re untangling those Christmas lights, remember that you’re carrying on a tradition that’s part pagan, part Roman, and wholly wonderful.

Ash Wednesday

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Did you know that the solemn act of repentance signified by Ash Wednesday has roots intertwined with both Norse and Indian traditions? That’s right, it’s not just a Christian thing! In Norse mythology, the ashes, or ‘dust’ if you want to get fancy, symbolize rebirth, not unlike the phoenix rising from its own ashes.

Similarly, in Indian tradition, ashes signify purification and regeneration. So, when you see that Ash cross on someone’s forehead, remember that it’s not just a symbol of abstinence and penitence in Christianity. It’s also a nod to ancient traditions teaching us about life, death, and rebirth. Because who said you can’t teach an old dogma new tricks?

Easter

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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The hare, a symbol of fertility and new life in Celtic and Germanic folklore, hopped into the Easter tradition, carrying the vibrant promise of spring on its furry shoulders. The rabbit’s prolific nature made it an apt representative of the season of rebirth. Adding a pinch of Norse mythology, we see the influence of Eostre’s sacred bunny.

Eostre, the goddess of spring and dawn, was often portrayed with a hare at her side, symbolizing the dawn of a new day or season. Meanwhile, the idea of an egg-laying rabbit seems to be borrowed from an ancient tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought with them the Germanic folk tale of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase.” Blend all these elements together, and voila! Out pops the Easter Bunny.

Halloween 

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Halloween, an eerie night of gory costumes, eerie jack-o’-lanterns, and heart-pounding horror stories, is rooted in an ancient pagan tradition. Originating from the Celtic holiday of Samhain, it was a night when the veil between our world and the spirit world was said to be at its thinnest. The Celts lit bonfires and donned scary masks to ward off evil spirits.

Fast forward a few centuries, and the Catholic Church, in an effort to convert pagans, decided to place All Saints’ Day—a day to honor Christian saints—on November 1. The night before became All Hallows’ Eve, ultimately shortened to Halloween. Despite the changes, the ghostly and supernatural elements of its pagan roots live on, making October 31 a night of delightful fright and fun.

Valentine’s Day

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Do you remember anxiously selecting the most endearing Valentine’s Day card for your secret crush, hoping to catch their attention? Little did you know, you were drawing on the traditions of the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia! Held annually on February 15, Lupercalia was a grand celebration of wolves and gods, notably Lupercus, the god of shepherds.

The festival began with animal sacrifices, after which young men, anointed with the sacrificial blood, would run through Rome, lightly sl@pp!ng women with strips of the sacrificed animal’s skin, called februas. This tradition was believed to enhance fertility. Fancy that the next time you’re picking out a heart-shaped box of chocolates!

New Year’s Day

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Who doesn’t enjoy New Year’s celebrations with fireworks, countdown parties, and resolutions? Let’s ride the time machine back to ancient Babylon, circa 2000 BCE. The Babylonians were arguably the first to hold celebrations in honor of the New Year. But for them, the party kicked off not in January but in mid-March, when the new crops were planted.

They marked the occasion with an eleven-day Akitu festival filled with merry mirth, feasting, and possibly the first-ever resolutions. Fast forward to today, and you’d find us toasting champagne, singing Auld Lang Syne, and making promises for self-improvement.

Thanksgiving

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Let’s talk turkey here, shall we? This day of gratitude, gorging on turkey, and gridiron can be traced back to Pagan harvest festivals. In ancient times, people from Celts to Egyptians held grand celebrations to thank their respective deities for the bountiful harvest.

The idea was simple: show gratitude for the overflowing granaries, and hopefully, the gods would bless them with another prosperous year. These ancient festivals were the original, rustic ‘Thanksgivings.’ So, while we may not make offerings to Demeter or Freyr as our ancient counterparts did, the sentiment of giving thanks for the fruits of the earth ties us to these old customs.

May Day

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Traditionally, this springtime bash was held in honor of the Roman goddess of flowers, Flora. Pagans frolicked around the Maypole, a distinct phallic symbol, in a rite of fertility and abundance. Over the centuries, Christianity subtly tiptoed into the party, weaving in the celebration of saints and the Virgin Mary.

Today, you might find yourself weaving colorful ribbons around that Maypole, an act unwittingly echoing the rites of an age-old pagan festival, all while basking in the warmth of the spring sun.

Mother’s Day And Father’s Day

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, far from their modern incarnation of breakfast in bed and handmade cards, have deep roots in the reverence of Greek and Roman deities. The ancient Greeks celebrated a similar occasion in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. They threw grand festivals brimming with honey cakes and fine drinks, which sounds much more fun than a hastily bought supermarket bouquet.

Meanwhile, celebrating Father’s Day began in Rome as ‘Feralia.’ It was a late winter commemoration of the dead, particularly deceased fathers. Over time, these observances morphed and fused with Christianity, slowly transforming into the familiar celebrations we know today.

St. Brigid’s Day Imbolc

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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Initially a Celtic festival celebrating the beginning of spring, Imbolc marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s like Mother Nature’s version of a wake-up call, nudging the world that it’s time to brush off winter’s slumber. The holiday was named after the goddess Brigid, renowned for her expertise in healing, poetry, and smithcraft.

As Christianity spread across Ireland, the church focused on repurposing existing pagan holidays to make conversion more palatable. And so, the goddess Brigid was rebranded as Saint Brigid, making Imbolc a ‘Christian’ holiday. Today, St. Brigid’s Day celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days, just as the Pagan festival of Imbolc did centuries ago.

Saint John’s Eve

11 Pagan Holidays That Have Made Their Way Into Everyday Christianity
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This one is a corker! Originally a pagan midsummer festival, it was craftily repackaged by Christianity to celebrate John the Baptist’s birthday. Forget the birthday cake and balloons, though. This shindig features bonfires that would make any fire marshal sweat, symbolizing purification and warding off evil spirits.

Traditional herbs like St John’s Wort are picked, considered potent at this time. So, you’ve got your answer if you ever wondered why we’re all about bonfires and herbs on Saint John’s Eve.

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  • Mitch

    A computer science enthusiast with a keen interest in technology and games, Mitchelle (Mitch) contributes a cutting-edge perspective to the Frenz Hub writing team, integrating her academic knowledge with her personal passions

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