Christmas did not originate in the Christian religion. It came from the ancient Romans. Every year in December they held a festival called “Saturnalia” in honor of their god Saturn. The festival ran for a week starting in December 17 up to December 23.
Saturnalia was a time of freedom and pleasure without consequence. People could do what they wanted and the law wouldn’t punish them. In fact, all courts of law were closed during the week-long festivities. The Romans would take this opportunity to play games, get drunk, run about naked and commit sexual acts that would be unacceptable at other times. Even the slaves got a break: for once the roles were reversed and they could insult their masters. A special banquet was prepared just for the slaves in each household.
More disturbing, the Romans would choose an innocent person to be a type of scapegoat during the festival. This person would be considered the enemy of the community. He or she would be forced to self-indulge in many ways for a week, before being killed.
The Christians used a clever tactic to get people to convert to their religion. They took the popular Roman festivals and changed them to fit into Christianity. While the names changed, the customs and practices stayed the same. It reassured people that they could convert to the new religion and still keep the old practices.
Since Saturnalia was the major feast of the year, the Christians made it the birthday of their savior. However the actual Christmas Day itself, December 25, was not the last day of Saturnalia. It was the day of Sol Invictus, the “Invincible Sun.” Sol Invictus was part of a Roman warrior cult – in which the figure of Mithras appears – and later it supplanted Saturnalia. No matter if it was the Sun god or Saturn, it was not originally Christian. Back then, Christians knew full well that that day was not really Jesus’ birthday. It was just to let the pagans assimilate their religion faster.
Many Christmas symbols and customs can be traced back to the pagans. The Christmas tree was taken from the Asheira cult and other tree worshipping cults. The mistletoe appears in Norse mythology as the arrow that killed the god Balder; it was also used by the Druids.
Gift giving began as offerings made to the god Saturn. After some time, people began exchanging gifts among themselves. Popular gifts included earthenware, writing tablets and wax candles. Later on the Christians invented the figure of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus who gave presents to children.
Some Christian groups have made attempts to stop the observation of Christmas However these have proved unsuccessful. Today even people of other faiths – or none at all – celebrate this holiday worldwide.