Are Easter and Christmas “Pagan” Holidays?
Digging in to a Common Idea about how Religions Interact
Every year, especially around Easter and Christmas, a wide variety of memes, social media posts, and cheeky discussions at holiday gatherings assert one simple fact over and over: that Christmas and Easter, the two most important Christian holidays, are not really Christian at all, but repackaged Pagan holidays. These claims are usually intended to open the eyes of those who believe their religion descended from the sky wholly formed, to make them see that religions, like everything else, are constructed culturally. Sometimes these claims are used by right-wing Christians to denounce things like Christmas trees and Easter Eggs. And sometimes, people just say or post them to get under the skin of a religious relative or friend (to which I would say, if you get mad when someone tells you that Jesus never hid Easter Eggs of hung Stockings, you need thicker skin). So, is it true? Are the two most important holidays of the Christian calendar actually pagan holidays?
The short answer: No
Well, actually, the short answer is, kinda.
The addendum to the short answer is: stop trying to find short answers to questions about religious history.
Here’s the long answer:
Christmas celebrates the Birth of Christ (which, true, likely did not happen on December 25th, more on the dating of Christmas later), and Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection after he was Crucified on Good Friday. Because Christ is the central figure in Christianity (see, it’s right in the name), the events that bookend his life take on particular importance, both his miraculous birth and his miraculous resurrection. Christians have, for a very long time, recognized these as important days for worship and for festivities.
Christianity started in the Eastern Mediterranean, initially as a community made up almost entirely of Jews. Within only a couple of generations, it had passed beyond the Jewish population and had gained Greek, Syro-phoenician, and even Roman converts. It spread, clandestinely at first, then very clandestinely, then rapidly as it passed in and out of legality in the Roman Empire. Eventually, Christianity became the official religion…