By Bryn Fawn
December is a delightful time of the year, with snow blanketing the ground, houses begin to twinkle at night, and the stores are full of toys and gifts to buy. Once the carols begin to play, it’s evident Christmas is here. Yet, there are plenty of other winter celebrations held around this time. Why aren’t they offered the same courtesy?
Christmas, religiously, is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. However, theologists speculate Christ was born around early to mid-fall, not Dec. 25. Pope Julius I was the one to declare that Christ’s birth was in December. The Bible never clearly states when Christ was born, but the selection of Dec. 25 was purposeful.
Yule, a Pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice, begins Dec. 21 and continues into January. Many traditions include giving gifts, singing carols, kissing under the mistletoe and the Yule log.
In fact, the term “12 days of Christmas” comes from Yule, as they would burn a tree log for 12 days to ward away evil spirits and the darkness. The tree used is the exact same type as the one found as our modern-day Christmas trees. Pagans would decorate their trees as well with candles and things such as ribbon or fruit for spirits/beings and animals.
Pagans typically celebrate every solstice, and each one in between. That’s eight holidays a year alone. These holidays’ celebrations commonly coincide with the time of year, such as celebrating the harvest, the long summer days or flowers coming into full bloom.
Pagans are not people of the past, either. In America alone, there are a reported .03% of Americans that identify as either Pagan or Wiccan according to the 2014 Pew Institute Religious Landscape Study. Paganism is even on the rise as the rate of Christianity declines.
Paganism is also an umbrella term, as depending on the region the paganism stems from the practices can vary differently. Even Irish and German Paganism have grand differences. Irish Paganism is defined as Celtic while Germanic Paganism is more closely related to Norse mythology.
It would be a rather strange coincidence that the holidays share so many similarities, while the likes of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are left to the wayside. There is no undeniable truth, as that is simply how history is at times. It still is inexcusable how Yule has now become nothing more than a forgotten memory or joke, as those who celebrate are often ridiculed.
Andrew Mark Henry, who has a PhD in ancient Christianity, said in a Twitter thread: “Though, rather than outright ‘stealing’ between Christians and pagans, scholars see this as everyone (pagan, Christian, and otherwise) having a vested interest to link their god to a day already considered cosmologically important for half a millennium: the Winter Solstice. So in the end, the topic is much more complicated than ‘Christians stole a pagan holiday.’”
Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also winter celebrations often overshadowed by Christianity. This year, Hanukkah even takes place over Christmas.
Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration of a revolt against oppressors. Jews had only enough oil for their lamps to last one day, yet it burned for eight days instead. That is why their menorah has eight candles that are lit each night at sundown.
Hanukkah has been commercialized in the U.S. with decorations being sold in stores, yet Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday. Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah are much more important in Judaism.
Kwanzaa is held from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. It’s an African holiday celebrating the harvest and unity, and culminates in a large feast on the sixth day. Kwanzaa also has candles burned each day, in a kinara with one black, three green and three red candles. Kwanzaa is also relatively young, having been created in 1966.
Maulana Karenga created the holiday to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”
December is not just for Christmas, and in fact hosts plenty of wonderful events to be honored, respected and celebrated. Happy holidays for everyone this winter season.