Are Christmas and Easter Rooted in Pagan Rituals?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Most Christians who celebrate Easter and Christmas readily admit that some traditions of the holidays were co-opted from earlier pagan rituals. For some Christians, the association with earlier religions is a reason not to celebrate the holidays. Others merely admit that the old associations are not particularly important because the sacred nature of these holidays (holy days) now preempts what people may have thought or done before.

A pagan ritual might have given rise to Santa Claus.
A pagan ritual might have given rise to Santa Claus.

Christians were doing nothing new by incorporating pagan rituals into religions with new interpretations. It is easier to convert people to a new religion by allowing them the traditions of the past. For example, some converted Jews who grew up celebrating Christmas may still have a Hanukkah bush at Christmas time because this is a comforting ritual that reminds them of past time spent in joyful company with family and friends.

Holly and ivy are symbols of rebirth.
Holly and ivy are symbols of rebirth.

Some may actually point to the rituals to argue that a Christmas tree has very little to do with Christianity, and thus is not a violation of Judaism. This of course depends on who one talks to. Some disapprove of using any other religions in the worship of the one God.

During Christmas, there tends to be more emphasis on gifts and less on Christ's birth in some families.
During Christmas, there tends to be more emphasis on gifts and less on Christ's birth in some families.

The following are some of the major symbols taken from pagan rituals observed at Christmas:

  • The Christmas tree was meant to honor Odin, the Norse God. It would have been hung with the sacrifice of nine animals. The tradition of the tree was co-opted by Marin Luther, and later brought to the New World.
  • Kissing under the mistletoe was one of the pagan rituals observed around the winter solstice. Mistletoe is associated with peace and love.
  • Holly and ivy are symbols of rebirth and the promise of spring. Decking the halls with boughs of holly is now interpreted as the coming of Christ’s birth, and the spring of Christianity.
  • Santa Claus may have once been Odin or Thor, who was thought to visit once a year and leave presents for good children, in their shoes. However, the exchange of gifts at Christmas is also closely tied to the visit of the kings. In some countries, Epiphany, or Three Kings Day on the sixth of January remains the traditional time for exchanging gifts.

At the time of the birth of Christ, there were several active mystery religions, which celebrated the resurrection of the gods. Chief among these is the rebirth of Dionysus, and the Dionysian rituals observed in spring. Prior to that, Babylonian rituals, and those of other religions may have influenced the very name of Easter. Easter is supposedly named after the goddess, Oestre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility.

The egg of course is the ultimate symbol of potential fertility. Decorating eggs existed long before Christianity and thus can be considered one of the pagan rituals. However, if we go farther we must extend the idea of the death and resurrection of Christ as the observation of pagan rituals. The abundance of mystery religions at the time sheds doubt on Christ’s resurrection. Most Christians care naught for the fact that these rituals worship similar things because they firmly believe in the resurrection of Christ as set down in the Bible.

The Easter bunny, however, appears not to be a borrowing from pagan rituals. Mention of the Easter Hare is first found in Germany in the 1500s. So it may be considered a wholly post-Christian conception. However, hiding the eggs reconnects us back to the pagan traditions regarding the coloring of eggs.

Most Christians who celebrate these holidays are less concerned with origins that bear no significance to them, as these pagan rituals are made new by the coming of Christ. Many are more concerned with the increased commercialization surrounding holidays, particularly Christmas. The more emphasis on gifts, the less on Christ’s birth. Especially young children may be more concerned about the presents and miss the importance of the Savior’s birth, which as many Christians know, did not occur in December.

Kissing under the mistletoe was one of the pagan rituals observed around the winter solstice.
Kissing under the mistletoe was one of the pagan rituals observed around the winter solstice.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Who cares? Have fun during the holidays, forgive those who have ticked you off during the year, and spend time with friends and family.


The research was well done on this piece. Group think is very powerful among humans. We pride ourselves on being independent thinkers, but really we weakly follow the crowd most of our lives.

I applaud those who do their research and then have the strength of their convictions to walk away from the mindless masses and walk in harmony with the facts. Freedom comes with facts.


Interesting article and comments. Christians celebrating Christmas always puzzled me too. December is not the birth date of the christian god - even if he existed in the first place.


There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush. Look it up. Do research. There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush!


I would like to point out another interesting fact the article failed to mention. First century Christians did not observe christmas, easter or any of the other modern day holidays that many of the churches of christendom observe, not to mention halloween, which is blatantly rooted in paganism.

All honest hearted people who truly want to live according to the righteous principles of the bible and the teaching of Christ and his Apostles, should ask themselves if they should be taking part in religious observances clearly rooted in paganism.


Why do non-Christian religions celebrate Christmas / Christ-Mass?

Simply put, because Christmas is not a Christian celebration. It formally was called Saturnalia, a festival where pagans would worship the sun god. Saturnalia was a celebration of fertility and sex being celebrated by humanity, before Christianity and the name Christmas / Christ-Mass came along.

The word for Christmas in late Old English by the Roman Catholic Church is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-maesse, in 1131.

Most people imagine that the word, "Christmas" signifies "the birth of Christ", yet, in actuality the word "Mass" in religious usage and connotation means a "death sacrifice." By definition, it means "death of Christ". The word "Mass" is strictly a Roman Catholic word and thus, so is "Christ-Mass." When individuals say, "Merry Christmas", they are literally conveying "Merry death of Christ."

The errant daughters of the Protestant movement, not just limited too the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals and Pentecostals have loved and accepted as part of their religious convictions the "Christ-Mass". Furthermore, December 25th has become their great annual homecoming day, when all of these professing Protestant religious faithful again become Roman Catholics for a day.

Christ-Mass was forbidden in England by an act of Parliament in 1644; yet, the conservatives resisted; and the Restoration Dissenters continued to call Yuletide "Fool-tide".

Many early European Reformers even then refused to reference ‘Yuletide’ due in fact that the end of December was and is a traditional Pagan holy day and Witches' Sabbath or Sabbat, known as Yule or Winter Solstice. A midnight meeting of witches to practice witchcraft and sorcery; in the Middle Ages it was supposed to be a demonic orgy.

Therefore, instead of asking why non-Christians celebrate a Christian holiday, one should really be asking why Christians are celebrating what is essentially a non-Christian holiday.

Muslims believe in Jesus as an ordinary person, acknowledging Him as a prophet not believing Jesus came back to life after His death and burial. Yet however, it is not unusual to see Muslim families with Christmas trees in the window, suggesting they too are getting into the spirit of Christ-Mass. Numerous Muslims today simply take the view that Christ-Mass is no longer considered a religious celebration, but an occasion of personal interpretation. Moreover, of course is the prospect of making financial profit for those who operate a business.

Hebrews too, believe in the existence of Jesus just as the Muslims, yet, they do not believe he came back to life after death, nor that Jesus’ sacrifice takes away the sins of humanity. How odd that Hebrew people celebrate an event based on the birth of Jesus when they as a people are still awaiting the return of their Messiah. Christ-Mass for them is not a religious festival, but an economic opportunity and the potential for increased economic profits as well.

Hindus and Buddhists are extremely different from the Abrahamic religions. Eastern religions are usually polytheistic, meaning they worship as many Gods as they deem necessary, so adding in the sun god wouldn't really matter. They don’t practice Christian rituals, but the attitude toward Christ-Mass, the principles of giving gifts and peace to all humankind is something enjoyed and accepted as a reason to celebrate. Decorating their temples and shrines with holly and evergreens, the lighting of candles, and special chanting in the temple and late night meditation vigil.

Santa Claus too is of particular enjoyment to many Buddhists. As he bears an uncanny resemblance to Pu Tai (Hotel in Japanese), the cheerful fat monk with the big hemp sack full of gifts for children. He is considered an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha. Hinduism and Buddhism are very much open to Christ-Mass because they take a holistic view of faith.

Conceivably the reason why most Muslims, Hebrews, Hindus and Buddhists don't commemorate in theory or practice in Christ-Mass is because its origins have deep pagan roots, and seemingly only acceptable and tolerable by those of the professing ’Christian’ faith.

Much of the world celebrates Christ-Mass without any reference to Christianity on any level. Even fewer Christians seemingly celebrate Christ-Mass in an exclusively religious approach. Even the heathen can appreciate peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, despite the religious origins of that phrase.

Since many of the holidays and events observed by ‘Christians’ in general, such as Christ-Mass, Ishtar and All-Hallows-Eve were appropriated from the ancient pagans, many don’t have any basis for complaining when the same holidays are being appropriated by the secular culture today.


To Tricia Ellis-Christensen: I enjoyed the article, but I have to wonder why did you write it?


The Easter bunny can be tied to paganism, too. Easter is a "remake" of Ostara, the first day of spring. Ostara is a celebration of fertility; hence, the Easter egg.

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