Today, Christmas is considered a Christian holiday. It’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, many of the traditions we have came from long before. So where did we get them, and why do we continue them today?
Many of these traditions – including the time of year of the holiday – come from the pagan festival for the winter solstice. In the Norse culture, it was known as Yule. In the early days of Christianity, the Christians didn’t like the winter solstice celebration because it was pagan. But when Christianity became the more powerful religion, many pagan traditions were adopted.
Many atheists take a cynical view, seeing the transformation of these Christmas icons as an example of cultural appropriation. It was a way for Christianity to consolidate its power. Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson brings a different perspective to this. He notes that the Bible is full of stories that come from different cultures and different tribes, and that the act of uniting tribes is the same as the process of joining their different stories into one whole.
Christians did not truly embrace the winter solstice celebration until they made one key connection: the light. Pagan European cultures celebrated the darkest day of the year. This wasn’t a celebration of darkness, but of the fact that it was the day the light of day began to get stronger throughout the year. They saw it as the moment of rebirth of the light, of life returning to the desolate winter.
In Christianity, the light is a symbol of truth, love, and guidance. Indeed, Jesus himself states in John 8:12:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The darkness of winter is the perfect canvas on which to paint a message of light and hope. The absence of light is hard for many, and it was even harsher in the past before electric lights and heating. But you can stand the darkness when you know the light is coming. When you know that darkness one day will be displaced by light, the future promise gives you strength and hope to carry on.