n the northern hemisphere during late December, the days are at their shortest lengths and the nights are at their longest. For those of the pagan world this has always been the greatest time of the year to celebrate and practice the works of darkness.

The pagan calendar identifies this period as the winter solstice. It was during the pre-Christian mid-winter pagan celebrations of Scandinavia’s Norse men where today’s Christmas tradition began. As a means of honoring the pagan sex and fertility god Yule, a 12-day celebration during the month of December was inaugurated.

A large single log considered to be a phallic idol was lit on fire and kept burning for 12 days. Animal or human sacrifices were offered in the fire on each of those days.


Wild delirious reveling accompanied the daily sacrifices as drunken participants defiantly strove to make contacts with spirits.

A thousand miles away in pre-Christian Rome, celebrants were paying homage to their own gods during the winter solstice. Witchcraft traditions holds that a number of pagan gods were given birth to during this period including Dionysus, Artis and Baal the chief male god of fertility and licentiousness.

Another pagan god from Persia identified as Mithra was said to have been born specifically on December 25. Mithra was the god of the unconquerable sun. The god of the light between Heaven and Earth worshipped at that time by an influential Roman cult. His birth symbolized an end to the long nights and a return to the dominance of the sun.

During the month-long winter solstice celebration, courts in Rome were closed and any or all crimes were allowed. Homosexuality, cross-dressing and uncontrolled debauchery reigned supreme. Rome’s order was turned upside down. Even Children were allowed to join in the drunken orgies as part of the Juvenalia celebrations. By 270 AD, the Roman emperor Aurelian has made it official, setting aside the seven day period from December 17th through the 24th culminating in an exchange of gifts on December 25th to celebrate the birth of the sun god. This roman orgy to end all orgies later became known as Saturnalia in honor of the god Saturn, the god of excess.

Roman soldiers invading Britain brought with them their pagan orgiastic traditions. Upon taking root in England, Saturnalia became known as the festival of fools reigned over by the lord of misrule.

By the fourth century, the influential government sanctioned Church of Rome unable to outlaw the growing number of pagan practices chose instead to adopt them into their so-called official Christianity. The Church believed this will attract more pagans to their fold.

Up until this time, the birth day of Jesus Christ the Jewish Messiah had not been celebrated at all. Ignoring scriptures however indicating that the birth probably did not occur during the winter, the Church nevertheless confused Biblical history and made Jesus’ birthday coincide with that of the pagan god Mithra.

The birth date of the sun god had now become the birth date of the son of God.

It was hoped that the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia would merge into this new legally sanctioned form of Christianity. The Church’s practice of changing the dates of Christian events to coincide with pagan festivals continued and by the 7th century Pope Gregory I had ordered Augustine of Canterbury to incorporate any and all pagan practices and customs into the expanding Roman Catholic Church.

During the middle ages, the debased Mardi Gras atmosphere of what was now known as Christ’s mass has reached a fevered pitch. Common practices included open sex in the streets, rioting, murder and a number of pagan Druidic Halloween rituals.

This blood drenched celebrations got so out of hand that by 1652 following the execution of King Charles I, Christ’s Mass was finally outlawed in England.

A religious reform movement began sweeping the country led by Puritan Oliver Cromwell. The Puritans took the Biblical mandate seriously which commanded that Christianity remained pure and separate from paganism.

Despite their noble efforts, the celebrations simply went underground and by 1656 after only four short years under the ban, the public’s demand for the legalization of Christ’s mass had become insurmountable.

The appointment of Charles II to the throne restored England’s monarchy and with it the celebration of Christ’s mass. The Puritans have lost England but they held high hopes for the New World.

Following England’s lead in 1659, the colonies of America had likewise outlawed Christmas. For two hundred years, the clergy in New England battled to keep the riotous celebrations honoring the pagan god Saturn from infiltrating the New World.

The Reverend Cotton Mather had warned in a Christmas day sermon in 1712 “can you in your conscience think that your Holy savior is honored by hard drinking, lewd reveling and by a Mass fit none but Bacchus or Saturn?” but the public’s taste for sin and revelry persisted.

In 1828, gang rioting during the Saturnalia-like Christmas celebrations got so bad that cities such as New York were forced to institute a professional police force for the first time in order to control the savagery.

By the mid-nineteen century, American Churches were the last remaining holdout in the war against the validation of Christmas. However, they too finally succumbed as a result of the efforts of the American Sunday School Society who began advocating Christmas programs for children as a method for filling the pews.

The society argued that children can be taught about the birth of Christ through the reenactment of the nativity. They also offered candy and treats to the children as a means of enticing families into accepting the holiday despite its notorious history and blatantly pagan roots.

The successful technique of bribing children with candy would later be used on an unsuspecting American populace in the effort to promote the acceptance of the pagan rituals of Halloween.

However, it was the work of England’s most popular writer Charles Dickens who’s ghostly 1843 book ‘A Christmas carol’ cemented the Christmas holiday in the hearts of Americans forever.

Dicken’s well-loved stories made the pagan Christmas feasts, shining trees, glittering shops and family warmth irresistible to those wanting to experience the holiday.

Coming to America in 1867 to promote his work, Charles Dickens packed theatres as he read his story to cheering audiences around the country. ‘A Christmas Carol’ gripped America and destroyed any final attempt to stop the evolution of Christmas.

By 1875, the Puritans had been beaten and by 1890 all American states had voted to make Christmas a legal holiday.


Lights, Yuletide Greetings And The Twelve Days Of Christmas

Today’s tradition of the Christmas Yule log stems directly from the worship of the pre-Christian Scandinavian fertility god Yule. The burning of this phallic idol is also responsible for the concept of the twelve days of Christmas which represented the twelve daily sacrifices offered up in the Yule log’s flames.

In an attempt to blur the origins of this horrific ritual, the Church of Rome placed the first day of the mass of Christ on December 25th and the twelfth day on January 6th. Despite no scriptural references for January 6th, it was selected as the day the wise men supposedly arrived to offer gifts to the newborn Christ. This day then has become known as Epiphany.

During the dark ages, the European custom of putting an oil-lighted wick lamp in the windows during the twelve days of Christmas signified to neighbors that the occupants were participating in the pagan worship of the phallic idol Yule.

In today’s commercialism, this is where we get the tradition of decorating our houses with Christmas lights. The Yule log custom was originally brought over to America by Scandinavian immigrants during the 1600s and despite attempts to ban the tradition, it has stayed with us to this very day.

Today, when we wish someone yuletide greetings, we are in a sense invoking the power of the fertility god Yule upon that person.


Deck The Halls

During the Saturnalia celebrations, holly and other greens were hung over doorways as part of a pagan ritual to ward off evil.

To deck the halls with boughs of holly we  acknowledge the powers of the nature gods. According to Wiccan rituals, placing holly or other greens in the shape of a circle or wreath accentuated its magical power.

Similarly, mistletoe when used in the casting of Wiccan or Druidic spells could render a woman helpless and open to sexual exploitation. This is where we get our custom of hanging mistletoe in doorways today and if a woman is caught underneath, she may be kissed and must not resist. Likewise, evergreen trees have always represented sex and fertility in pagan cultures.

During the winter solstice, trees will be chopped down, brought inside, set up and decorated as idols for worship.

In th middle ages, the tradition of the winter solstice Christmas tree primarily took root in Germany. During his reign, King George I, himself of German extraction, brought the custom to Victorian England. German immigrants settlin g in Pennsylvania did the same in America during the early 1800s.

In 1848, the London illustrated news published a famous engraving depicting Queen Victoria and her royal family beside a decorated Christmas tree and within a few years nearly every English household had their own tree in allegiance to the monarchy.

By 1900, the US forest service estimated that at least one in five homes in America had adopted the Christmas tree tradition.

Thousands of years earlier, God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah warned against this pagan practice in the Old Testament.

“For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

Jeremiah 10:3-5 KJV  



The Jolly Old Elf

The concept of Santa Claus has had a long and winding history with a number of diverse cultures contributing to the composite character we have today.

Beginning once again in Scandinavia, Santa’s original incarnation was in the form of Odin, the pagan god of thunder. A tall fellow with a long flowing beard who inhabited the spirit-infested Nordic forests.

Odin will travel the sky during he winter solstice deciding who will die and who will prosper. Most believers were frightened of this particular time of year.

In England, Odin eventually evolved into Father Christmas. Who, crowned with sprigs of holly travelled the countryside getting roaring drunk as part of the festival of fools celebration.

Frequently, he would be accompanied by a horned goat ironically the Biblical symbol of those who reject the salvation of Jesus Christ.

According to the traditions of the Church of Rome, there was a Turkish bishop named Nicholas who hailed from Mira in Asia minor during the 4th century. He was known as the patron saint of sea-faring men.

Over the centuries, as the legend began to unfold, it was rumored that saint Nicholas had actually captured the devil himself, put him in chains and made him his personal servant.

Recognized in various cultures as Krampus, Beelzebub or Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), this assistant of saint Nicholas is best known by his German name Knecht Ruprecht. Described as a hideous horned creature, the servant Ruprecht was a dark and sinister figure who stood in stark contrast to the saintly Nicholas.

Somehow, Father Christmas’ companion, the horned goat has metamorphosized into the foreboding horned devil called Ruprecht.

As saint Nicholas travelled from house to house inquiring about the behavior of children, Ruprecht would drop candy and gifts down the chimney into the good children’s shoes which had been placed there.

It was from this story that we get our tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle at Christmas time.

If able to recite a verse or demonstrate a skill for saint Nicholas, the child would receive a gift. If unable to remember a verse or if the child had been bad, he or she would receive a switch or a whip.

Ruprecht also carried a large sack which he would frequently use to haul away the really bad boys and girls.

As more and more Christian Churches began combining the pagan rituals of the winter solstice with the celebration of the birth of Christ, emphasis on saint Nicholas’ role began to shift. Some cultures began to downplay the role of saint Nicholas but surprisingly retained Ruprecht.  

Eventually, Knecht Ruprecht was named the companion and servant to the Christ child himself. In this scenario, the devil is actually given the title Weihnacfsmann or Santa Claus.

19th century writer Theodore Storm in his story about Knecht Ruprecht even goes so far to describe the switches given to the children by Ruprecht as tools to be used in sado-masochistic rituals.

Soon the image of Ruprecht would fade from the Christmas tradition but not his sadistic influence. Many of the early depictions of Santa Claus portrayed him not as a jolly gift giver but of an unfriendly disciplinarian complete with a ready switch or whip.

German immigrants coming to America during the 1620s tried to influence the New World with the stories of saint Nicholas and his gift-giving companion Knecht Ruprecht but somehow the idea just didn’t take hold until almost 200 years later.

In 1819, America’s bestselling author Washington Irvin used his influence to promote saint Nicholas in a popular Christmas story titled ‘Brace Bridge Hall’.

Consulting Irvin’s writing, episcopalian minister Clement Clarke Moore penned a decidedly tale called ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ in1822. Later retitled ‘The Night before Christmas’, Moore’s poems were  based on the tales of German and Dutch immigrants who had come to America.

Intended originally only for his own children, Moore’s story was published in Detroit Sentinel in New York and became an overnight sensation. Gone were the bishop remnants of saint Nicholas, he was now a jolly old elf imbued with supernatural powers.

Moore has also replaced Nicholas’ companion, the horned Knecht Ruprecht with eight horned magical reindeer.

As the popularity of ‘the night before Christmas’ grew, Moore became increasingly concerned that the story’s emphasis on the supernatural and its disregard for Christ would reflect poorly on his position as a minister.

As a result, he refused to take credit for its creation until the story became so popular that he could no longer resist.

Forty years later, illustrator Thomas Nast, political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly seared the image of Santa Claus into the minds of the world by creating a drawing which combined Moore’s jolly old elf with images of saint Nicholas taken from his own native Bavaria.

By 1880, Santa was a thoroughly secularized folk hero who had become increasingly irresistible to retailers worldwide.

  • Caryl Matrisciana

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