16 Pagan Christmas Traditions that People Mistakenly Credit to Christianity

“Saturnalia” by Antoine Callet.Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Wikimedia Commons.

15. Christmas Feasting and overindulgence was a Hangover from Pagan Midwinter Celebrations.

 During Advent and up until Christmas Eve, Christians would fast as they prepared for the nativity. However, once Christmas day arrived, they made up for frugality with indulgence and excess. By the Middle Ages, it was customary to down tools for the Christmas period and enjoy a surplus of food and drink and riotous entertainment. Mummers and dancing were favorite pastimes as well as all-round rowdy behavior. Many justified this excess by claiming they were celebrating Christ’s birthday in high style. However, this behavior was no medieval degeneration, for it is clear that that partying and pleasure were a part of even the earliest Christmas.

Early Christian leaders were warning against too much pleasure as Christmas as early as the fourth century AD. In 389AD, St Gregory Nazianzen, one of the four fathers of the Greek Church criticized customs of ‘feasting in excess” and “dancing” at Christmas. This criticism arose because these festive excesses were hangovers from the pagan midwinter festivals like Saturnalia when celebrants suspended normal life and pleasure ruled. Saturnalia, in particular, was a time when men remembered a golden age where work was unnecessary by stopping work and making “merry noise on every side,” with “the song and the games. “The Church fathers feared that such pagan relics detracted from the religiosity of Christmas. They were probably right.