With Christmas being on of the most reverent holidays in Christianity, it comes as a shock to many followers that Christmas Day has pagan origins. Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25, but it was not always so.
According to Judaism Online, Christians began celebrating on Dec. 25 because of the Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia, “a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.”
During these days, it was declared a week of misrule; all courts were closed and no one could be punished. This week of misrule was celebrated with ample food and many human sacrifices to the pagan deities. Pagans went door to door singing naked (hence caroling), and decorated trees to honor their goddesses. In a hurried effort to cleanse the Romans of this sinful week, the pope proclaimed the last day of the festival, Dec. 25, to be Jesus’ birthday.
The date of which Christmas falls is not the only aspect of the holiday influenced by paganism. Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey in 270 CE and later became a bishop.
After his death. St. Nicholas was appointed as patron saint of sailors, which soon caused him to gain cult like followers. According to Judaism Online, a group of “sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy.” The group exchanged gifts during a pageant on the anniversary of Nicholas’ death, Dec. 6.
After hearing of these pagan men, “the Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult and taught that he did (and they should) distribute gifts on December 25th instead of Dec. 6.” From then on, the tradition of Santa Claus was born.