The pagan origin of Christmas: The Saturnalia and Vikings –

The Christmas It is one of the festivals of Christianity, on this occasion we celebrate the birth of Jesus, fathered by Mary after, as the same creed says, a divine and immaculate conception thanks to the Holy Spirit. But in reality, this festival hides pagan origins as it is based on cults and festivals of previous religions that dominated the Mediterranean and Europe before the arrival of Christianity. Thus, symbols such as the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, the manger, as well as the custom of exchanging gifts are actually descendants of earlier pagan customs. The same for the same date, December 25. let’s find out then the pagan origin of Christmas: The Saturnalia and Vikings.

The pagan origin of Christmas: The Saturnalia and Vikings

The Roman Empire was a place rich in religionsa vast political body that received various credits and subjects were always tolerated (this did not apply to Christian and Jewish beliefs, viewed with suspicion by monotheism). To the traditional Roman religion was added the Greek (Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Hermes, etc.) (with Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Apollo, Mars, Venus, Neptune, Mercury, etc.) , the Egyptian (divinities such as Ra, Sobek, Anubis, Horus, Seth, etc) but also other minor religions such as the Celtic (the phenomenon of Druidism) or the famous mystery cults (to enter it was necessary to follow a course of initiation rites) where Eastern deities such as Cibeles, Isis, Mitra or Sol Invictus were venerated. We must also insert the various creeds of philosophical origin such as Neopythagoreanism or Neoplatonism of Plotinus.

The Greco-Roman origins of the festival, the choice of date and the custom of gifts

The period at the end of December was very important Saturnalia was celebrated in Rome from 17 to 23 (where we had an “upside down world like in Carnival” made up of costumes but also gifts) for Roman traditionalists while December 25 was also the day consecrated to Sol Invictus or Mitra (the day was remembered as Dies Natalis Solii Invicti which is the birth day of the Summoning Sun). The choice to overlap the day of the winter solstice with the birth of Christ was due to the attempt to pick up the heritage of the pagan world and “give it a new meaning”.

Secondly, the image of the Sun could be absorbed by the Christian faithful in the image of Christ, acquiring a new meaning since Jesus “was considered a point of reference as well as the Sun that illuminates the world and the faithful.” The ancient liturgical calendar, the Depositio martyrum contained in the Chronograph of Furio Dionigi Filocalo, points out that The first time Christmas was celebrated on December 25 was in 336 AD.

Returning to the Saturnalia, to remember and in homage to the equality of the golden days, slaves were also granted freedom to those who in those days they were allowed to feast with their masters and even be served by them. people were dressed up meanwhile, what today we would call street artists, improvised their shows everywhere. Small gifts were also exchanged. and terracotta, wax or even bread figurines called Sigillaria that alluded to men who were subject to fate and the game of the gods.

Going back to our days, If we reexamine the contemporary Christmas festival, it is easy to see how the religious and folkloric models of the Saturnalia have been preserved with the inevitable difference and overlap, even thousands of years apart.

The exchange of gifts, the sacred aspect of the divine celebration, the suspension of work activities characterize, today as then, the Saturnalia and Christmas, and show how the influences between cultures are the most varied and multiform.

The Roman festival of Saturnalia ended on December 25day of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the invincible sun. In 274 AD C. was decreed by Emperor Aurelian as a celebration of the winter solstice, and from 529 AD, after Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian made Christmas a civil holiday, a date to celebrate the birth of the Son of Light. However, it appears that Christ was not born in late December, but rather in an unspecified autumnal period. Due to the state of anarchy in which they operated, the early Christians moved Christmas to the time of Saturnalia to draw as little attention to themselves as possible while celebrating their festivals.

the god saturn

The Saturnalia, of course, celebrated that Saturn was the god of sowing (from the Latin satus, from which the name saturnus) because the heat of the sun was necessary to allow the sowing and the beginning of the growth of the cultures.

The Edict of Constantine of 313 AD, which sanctioned tolerance between the religions present in the territory of the Roman Empire, and the Edict of Thessalonica of 380 AD, which declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, put an end to the pagan celebration. But there are many parallels between the Roman and contemporary traditions. It is quite evident when it comes to the lights and the lighting of candles around the temple consecrated to the divinity. In countries with a Catholic tradition, candles and lights are undoubtedly an important aspect of the Christmas celebration, both from a sacred and profane point of view.

The origin of the manger

On the other hand, also the tradition of manger (diffused mainly in Naples and Campania) owes its origin to the Greco-Roman heritage; the shepherds of the manger are the descendants of the penates and the laresthe deities who protected the house and the field, small statuettes placed on altars near Roman houses of all walks of life. The word manger comes from the Late Latin praesēpe-is, in particular from the accusative praesēpĭu(m), which means “corral for the cattle, stable or barn”.

The pagan origin of Christmas: the Vikings

Along with the Saturnalia as one of the pagan origins of Christmas Cristina, also the Yule tradition, of Celtic and Viking origin It is another of the pagan celebrations closely related to our Christmas parties.

This was the celebration of the winter solstice of the peoples of German origin and northern Europe, a tradition that is still celebrated today in Scandinavia and hence is known in some way as “Viking Christmas”.

In the Yule tradition, the end of a cycle is celebrated, the arrival of a new solstice and specifically the worship of the Norse gods of protection or fertility (Freyr and Thor).

Among the Yule rites performed by the Vikings, there was the sacrifice of animals to honor the gods, in addition to keeping the meat to be able to supply the people during the cold months. Banquets full of food and drink and the central dish, the juilskinka (Christmas ham), were also part of this celebration and if we think about it it is something quite similar to what Christmas is like that we currently celebrate.

It was also celebrated Yule log lighting o Yule rog, a log that was kept during the year and burned during Yule in order to drive away evil spirits. In addition, it was believed that if the ashes spread to the field, it would have a good harvest in the new year.

ANDhe sacrificed the yule goat It is another of the pagan traditions that is related to the Christmas we know. This rite was dedicated to the god Thor, who protected humanity on the back of a chariot pulled by the magical rams Tanngnjóstr and Tanngrisnir, something that evolved into Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus.