The origins of Christmas date back to the ancient world, and pagan festivals. Before the birth of Jesus ancient people celebrated the passing of darkest days of winter, with a winter solstice festival.
The Origins of Christmas in Scandinavia involve the Yule festival celebration that started on December 21st and lasted into January. Fathers and sons from the village would go into the forest, chop down a large tree and bring it back to the village. It is from this tree that the Yule logs came. These Yule Logs were set ablaze and the festival lasted as long as the fire continued to burn. Norse traditions said that each spark from the fire represented livestock that was going to be born in the upcoming year.
In other parts of Europe to save resources cattle and other livestock were slaughtered so they wouldn’t have to be fed through the winter. This led to an abundance of fresh meat, and all of the beer and wine that had fermented all year was consumed.
The origins of Christmas in Germany involved the pagan god Oden. Oden was not a benevolent god, and it was believed he made nighttime visits flying through the sky, watching over his followers. On his visits he selected those who were going to have good fortune, and those who were going to pass on in the upcoming year.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a holiday to pay homage to Saturn the god of agriculture, as their winters were not as severe as those in more northern latitudes. Shortly before the winter solstice the Saturnalia festival began, and the celebration lasted for a full month. These celebrations were filled with food, and merriment. The normal class order was temporarily reversed and masters and slaves exchanged roles, and the peasants ran the city. Commerce and teaching were suspended for this period to allow everyone to participate in the festival.
Another holiday observed by the Romans was that of Juvenalia, a celebration of children. During this time the birth of Mithra, the unconquerable sun god, was also celebrated. Mithra was born out of the rock on December 25th, and in some areas this was the most sacred holiday of the year.
The origins of Christmas in Christianity have evolved over time. Originally only the death of Christ was celebrated at Easter, not his birth. Sometime in the 4th century the church leadership began to celebrate the birth of Christ. The time of year for Christ’s birth is not mentioned in the Bible, and it is unlikely that Shepard’s were tending to their flocks in the middle of winter. The official date of Christmas was chosen to be December 25th by Pope Julius I. Modern day scholars believe this date was chosen to incorporate the pagan rituals associated with Saturnalia.
By associating Christmas with Saturnalia and other winter solstice festivals the theological leaders hoped to increase the likelihood that it would be celebrated. The First Feast of the Nativity was celebrated in Egypt in 432 was being celebrated in most of Europe in the 6th century, and in Scandinavian countries in the 8th century. This version of Christmas is different than the modern history of Christmas. The atmosphere was much like a carnival with drunken revelers in the streets, resembling modern day Mardi Gras celebrations.