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  Pagan Elements in Christmas and Easter

A non-Christian reader of an article I wrote about Easter sent me a note saying: "If you are going to be calling yourself a Christian, you shouldn't talk about or celebrate two of the most pagan holidays ever," then listed the pagan elements of Christmas and Easter. It was a reasonably thoughtful and polite letter, so I responded with my thoughts, portions of which appear here.

I don't disagree with your assessment that the dates of Christmas and Easter and a fair amount of both celebrations have pagan elements mixed in to them and that they coincide with early pagan holidays.

But your suggestion that I not celebrate (or even talk about) these holidays goes a bit far. As an American I celebrate Independence Day although my country's founding has a strong streak of Rationalism and anti-clericalism in it (read Tom Paine), and though its history has black marks, and though I'm not in agreement with everything my country does even now. Also, the Fourth of July is not truly the day America became independent of British rule, but if folks want to celebrate it on the Fourth of July that's fine with me.

I also go to church on "Sunday" although I do not worship the Sun. And I have appointments on "Thursday" although I take no account of Thor. If I was an Algerian Christian, perhaps I would celebrate Ramadan, simply to identify with my fellow Algerians, not because I'm a Muslim. There is nothing anti-Christian about fasting (It's been done for ages), so if something is not against my faith, why should I oppose it? Why should I not participate? Why should I build unnecessary walls between myself and my neighbors?

And especially, why should I reject symbols that approximate what I am trying to communicate? Eggs were used, as you pointed out, to symbolize new life, and were logically applied to symbolize the new life that Jesus gives us and that we want to communicate. It hardly makes sense that we should use symbols nobody understands.

Symbols and celebrations are not fixed in stone for all eternity. They reflect the meaning that people give to them. There was a time when the swastika (regardless of which way the thing twirled) was a good luck symbol. Now, because of Hitler, in the Western world it is almost exclusively a symbol of hatred and racism. The symbol is the same, the meaning changed. Probably some of the very letters I'm using in responding to you originally had some runic pagan significance, but the meaning has changed, and what the alphabet meant 500 or 600 years ago doesn't concern me much.

Copyright 2000 Brad Haugaard.