Some have charged in recent years that Easter and Christmas have been “stolen” from pagans and Christianized, or that they’re not really Christian holidays, or that we’re ignorant to speak of “the reason for the season” being Christ.
It has become yet another excuse for scoffers to poke fun at Christians and say their own religion (or lack of) is superior. Or even for Christians themselves to scorn Christmas or Easter, refusing to celebrate them.
In truth, Christ is the reason for the season for Christians. Whatever the reasons others celebrate them, wherever many of the customs come from (whether Christian or pagan), for centuries, Christians have celebrated the birth and death/resurrection of Christ on Christmas and Easter.
The entire year in the Orthodox Church is full of various feast and fast days based on the life and death of Christ; Christmas and Easter (Pascha) form a large part on which the chronology of the rest of the year is based.
The source of the idea of Christmas being a pagan holiday, and that everyone who celebrates it is offending God by worshipping Mithras, appears to go back to the Catholic vs. Protestant wars and conflicts several centuries ago. This led to Puritans forbidding it and, for a time, England outlawing Christmas.
Such conflicts can hardly be expected to produce reliable facts about the Other. And in recent times, these urban legends have turned up again with a new vengeance, in the Internet religious “wars” of Christians vs. atheists/Pagans, or some Christian sects vs. a supposedly pagan-infused Catholic Church (aka The Whore of Babylon).
But they are no more reliable than those stories of Wiccans worshipping Satan or Satanic Ritual Abuse.
And no, this idea of people scoffing at Christians and invalidating all our holidays as “fake,” “pagan” and “stolen” is not just some Christian persecution complex. Someone who is NOT a Christian–who is, in fact, a Wiccan–addresses these very accusations with the truth about Christian holidays here, here and here.
Cassie Noble Beyer is not a Christian apologist, or defensive about Christianity, by any means. She simply wants to debunk myths and encourage people of alternative religions to be kind and truthful rather than militant and offensive. She writes,
Three times a year – Easter, Halloween, and Christmas – I find myself assaulted by claims of how Christian practices and beliefs were entirely cobbled together from pagan sources. There are filters I put on certain searches in order to limit my annoyance, but I still run into them.
First, they are generally written with a tone of superiority and contempt. They aren’t neutrally providing information but instead putting forth arguments meant to ridicule and demean. OK, Christianity isn’t your thing. Why try ruining it for those who believe?
Second, is the fact that most of the arguments you find out there are simply wrong. Not only are they factually wrong, but some don’t even make much sense if you think about them.
Third – and this is my favorite – at least half the time when I attempt to object, I am accused of being overly defensive about my faith by people who don’t know my faith, which becomes comical as Christianity isn’t my thing either.
People just presume, because heaven forbid someone would actually be interested in facts. I just don’t like people being mean-spirited about dumb things.
She also writes,
Bad history is bad. It misdirects, misinforms, and makes its champions (and sometimes the community in which they are members) look ignorant and hateful.
Theologically, Wicca and Christianity are most certainly at odds, as previously discussed about Christian Wicca. But that doesn’t mean Wiccans and Christians have to be at odds. Nothing in either religion says members have to be awful to one another.
But a lot of Wiccans are former Christians, and Christianity is the majority religion in the US, so when a Wiccan is angry at a religion or religions in general, Christianity often bears the brunt of it.
Why? Partially because of bad history. The Christian Church gets blamed for all sorts of things that happened hundreds of years ago, didn’t happen at all, or happened in a context quite different from modern Western society.
Bad history matters.
(This, by the way, is also why I do not consider Wiccans to be Satan-worshippers, or Muslims to be warmongers. I prefer to let members of a religion define themselves and their rites, because–after all these myths I’ve encountered about my own religion–I know what it feels like.)
She also writes,
Studying both history and religion, I cross paths with a fair number of people angry and jaded about both specific religions and religion in general, and they support their position with history.
Rather than simply being non-religious, these individuals are actively against it, calling it manipulative, fraudulent, and/or violent. Sometimes specific examples get conflated into tremendous generalized accusations. Other times, the information is just wrong.
Christianity, being the majority religion in the U.S., bears the brunt of ill-informed objections.
It’s one thing to simply disbelieve in another religion’s teachings. We all disbelieve in something, because our own beliefs are not compatible with every other belief.
But there’s a considerable number of erroneous facts commonly put forth to paint Christianity (and other religions) as not merely wrong but fraudulent, an actively constructed lie made for the benefit of a few.
So you see, Christians are not just imagining this. Heck, I have actually encountered a man who not only got up on his soapbox haranguing against Christians every time I saw him, but who said he was on a campaign to stamp out Christianity. Then, after all his moralizing, was put in jail for snapping dirty pictures of underage girls.
And no, we don’t have to just bend over and accept the accusations as true lest we be “overly defensive” and “resistant to facts.” The supposed “facts” we’re countering are not actually “facts.” How is it “too defensive” to counter myth with fact?
I have run into complaints about using Christian sources. Christian sources generally seem to be the ones interested in debunking myths about their holidays. But anyway, here you go, a Pagan source which says the same things as the Christian ones. AND she has credentials as a professor of Humanities.
She also writes, referring to the use of December 25 and various customs which may have pagan roots themselves,
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, whenever that birth might have been. Having to choose a day, they decided to have it coincide with a known holiday rather than just throwing a dart at a calendar.
December 25 is not, however, the birth of either Horus or Mithras, which are common claims. Neither of them have a celebrated birthday.
…The Saturnalia was a period of time starting on December 17 and extending several days, although length varies throughout the Roman period. People connect it with Christmas for a couple big reasons.
The first is the giving of presents. Really, only one culture can decide giving presents is a nice thing to do, and then the practice is tainted for anyone else?
The second is the idea of role-reversals, where masters served a meal to slaves, commoners could speak out against betters, and so on. This became quite a medieval practice as well. …
Furthermore, how does that in any way invalidate the story of Christmas? Yes, it was probably borrowed from a pagan culture, but it doesn’t speak at all to the meaning of Christmas or any of the religious practices associated with it. People decided they liked continuing to have an excuse to misbehave.
…Besides all this, purpose is important. If you are celebrating the birth of Christ, then you’re celebrating the birth of Christ. Your celebration doesn’t magically redirect to some pagan god.
So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what day you do it. Christians just standardized it by placing it on December 25.
Also, Collier’s Encyclopedia backs up the Catholic Encyclopedia, both of which have articles on Christmas. Both give the dominant theory (which is not depicted as confirmed fact) that Christmas was given the December 25 date in the 4th century to go along with a pagan festival.
Collier’s gives potential pagan roots for many customs. But both also say that Christmas was already being celebrated in various places at various times long before this happened.
That is, and has always been, my basic point, ever since I first encountered the “haters” around 1996, and in the 20 years following.
I knew for some time–including from a Christian newsletter from Focus on the Family–that Christmas and Easter included customs with possibly pagan sources. This did not bother me.
But I also knew that Santa, while fiction (sorry to break it to you), was based on a real person, St. Nicholas, and that St. Nick originally had his own feast day separate from Christmas (still celebrated in many places).
He was not invented to baptize a pagan tradition, either, but already existed as a real person, no matter where all the Santa customs came from. His feast day was set so long ago (sixth century) that both Western and Eastern churches celebrate it.
As immigrants from the Germanic and Nordic lands settled in the United States the image of St. Nicholas, or “Sinterklaas,” as he is known among the Dutch, slowly changed to that of “Santa Claus” with little tie to the spirituality of Christianity. —OrthodoxWiki
Note that German and Nordic lands weren’t Christianized until much later than his feast day was set. See here and here. So while the Santa customs of much later times may have been from pagan sources, the name “Santa Claus” is a corruption of “Sinterklaas,” which means “St. Nicholas.” And St. Nicholas is not pagan at all.
This page gives an interesting history of Russian celebrations of St. Nicholas, and how they were banned and transformed into general “Grandfather Frost” customs during communism.
I also knew that December 25 was likely an erroneous date for Christ’s actual birth.
1996 is the first time I heard–from my ex-boyfriend Peter, once a Christian, who turned atheist then Pagan–that the roots of Christmas and Easter themselves were pagan. That we stole the holidays. That Santa was based on some pagan elf rather than St. Nicholas. That paganism is the reason we celebrate.
No, the roots of Christmas and Easter are the birth and death of Christ! If not for the birth and death of Christ, we would not celebrate the birth and death of Christ! We would celebrate something else, or nothing at all.
I looked in my Collier’s Encyclopedia, which contradicted what he told me, saying that the celebration of Christmas already existed prior to setting the date with some pagan festival. The date, really, is inconsequential. (I forget what I said about Easter, and don’t want to go dig up the e-mails to find out.)
Then over the following years–on Internet forums, in real life, on Facebook, even from Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory (who was snipping about his mother’s Christian beliefs)–I heard/read that Christmas is really a pagan holiday and we Christians are idiots to think we’re celebrating the birth of Christ. Or that Easter is really celebrating some spring fertility goddess.
And whether it was about Christmas/Easter or about Christianity in general, I’d hear the snips at every SCA event, and on SCA newsgroups.
One entire SCA event was ruined by a guy (mentioned above, the sex offender) who peppered my husband and me with all sorts of criticisms of how our religion is so fake and horrible. He then turned around and tried to make our shire website into an anti-Christian diatribe.
The ridicule even where everyone was supposedly “chivalrous” was one of the main reasons why I stepped away from the SCA for many years.
Recently, someone even wrote a letter to the local newspaper saying that Christmas is really a pagan holiday–and that Christmas trees are forbidden in the Bible. (The Bible says nothing about Christmas trees, which did not exist back then.)
I also encountered it around 1998 or 1999 when I was sent the Heirophant’s Questionnaire (more on this below). Question #49 reads,
Why are so many Christian holidays on the same day as Pagan holidays? Couldn’t the early Church fathers have converted pagans only by appealing to their reason and/or faith if Christianity really is the true religion?
So right there is solid evidence for you that people are using this to ridicule Christians, rather than simply presenting a history lesson.
But back to my sources:
Another of my sources is a biblical historian who gives his sources, on an award-winning website of biblical archaeology. This website and its corresponding magazine are highly respected, not just by Christians but by a wide range of institutions or magazines/newspapers including Time, Harvard, the New York Times and the Smithsonian. So hardly some hack on the Internet.
Also, one of my sources is William J. Tighe, an associate professor of history at Muhlenberg College, so hardly some hack on the Internet. As he writes,
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival.
Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival.
So apparently the only ones making this into an “issue” for which to harass and mock Christians, are people with axes to grind against Christianity. And there are plenty of them, and they are loud and obnoxious.
However, the basis for their harassment and mocking–which they consider to be the “facts” we Christians are “too defensive” about–is actually not true at all. And Tighe has the credentials to say so.
The Santa Claus traditions have many pagan elements, but the original Santa was Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children. He was a real person who lived in Asia Minor in the early days of the Church:
Saint Nicholas by Catherine Fournier
St. Nicholas: Discovering the truth about Santa Claus
Christmas was not “invented” to “Christianize” a pagan festival. Only the date is potentially “pagan,” and even that is under some dispute.
Christmas was apparently celebrated as far back as 200AD in Egypt (in SPRING), and at different times of the year, depending on how the local church calculated the birthdate of Christ.
The date was under dispute for some time, as church authorities tried to figure out what exact date Jesus was born. It was celebrated in various parts of the world before the date of certain pagan feasts (December 25) was finally set for Christmas by Rome in the fourth century.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an exhaustive history of the celebrations, along with origins of some Christmas traditions, in Christmas.
But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.
Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.
Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance. –William J. Tighe, Calculating Christmas
The crucial thing is not, “Did the early Christians get the date of Christmas right?” It is, rather, “What mattered to them as they determined the date of Christmas?”
And when you look at that, you again immediately realize that what dominates their minds is not Diana, Isis, sun worship, or anything else in the pagan religious world. What interests them is, from our modern multicultural perspective, stunningly insular.
Their debates are consumed, not by longing for goddess worship, or pagan mythology, or a desire to import Isis and Diana into the Faith, but the exact details of the New Testament record of Jesus’ death, alloyed with a Jewish—-not pagan—-theory about when Jewish—-not pagan—-prophets die.
They don’t care a bit how pagan priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus.
They care intensely about how Levitical priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. These Christians are completely riveted on Scripture and details of Jewish and Christian history and tradition.
They don’t give a hoot what sun worshipers, Osiris devotees, or Isis fans might think. –Mark Shea, Everybody knows that Christmas is really just a warmed-over Celebration of the Feast of the Sol Invictus: Guess what? Everybody’s wrong!
The present Feast, commemorating the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, was established by the Church. Its origin goes back to the time of the Apostles.
In the Apostolic Constitutions (Section 3, 13) it says, “Brethren, observe the feastdays; and first of all the Birth of Christ, which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month.”
…In the second century St Clement of Alexandria also indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is December 25. In the third century St Hippolytus of Rome mentions the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and appoints the Gospel readings for this day from the opening chapters of St Matthew.
…In 302, during the persecution of Christians by Maximian, 20,000 Christians of Nicomedia (December 28) were burned in church on the very Feast of the Nativity of Christ….
St John Chrysostom, in a sermon which he gave in the year 385, points out that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient, and indeed very ancient. –OCA website, The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Though the pagan festivities may have served as a catalyst, the selection of this feast for this day was neither sudden nor arbitrary.
In fact, December 25th had already enjoyed preeminence among Christians as the birthday of Christ long before the papal decree. According to Pope Benedict XVI, the first person to clearly assign Christmas to its current feast day was St. Hippolytus of Rome.
…Thus, the common criticism of the celebration of Christmas on December 25 made by some Christian sects — i.e., that the date of Christmas is another trapping of paganism in which the Catholic Church has gone astray — is not based on fact.
The choice of December 25th as the liturgical feast for Christ’s birth is far more likely to have been an independent, patristic tradition of early Christianity.
The fact that it shares the same day as the birth of the sun god seems more based on the Roman calculation of the winter solstice.
The pagans observed the birth of their deity when the “great light” was at its lowest point of the year, calculated as December 25. –Hugh O’Donnell, The 25th of December Pagan Feast or Patristic Tradition?
More on this:
“How December 25 Became Christmas” by Andrew McGowan
Christmas was never a pagan holiday by Marian T. Horvat, PhD
Christmas, Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus? by Jon Sorensen
Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies by Pastor Joseph Abrahamson presents passages from credible sources from long before December 25 was fixed, showing that date was already considered his birthday. However, his links are now dated, so instead use this for the passage by Clement of Alexandria and here for Hippolytus.
Even Pope Benedict weighed in on this:
“The claim used to be made that December 25 developed in opposition to the Mithras myth, or as a Christian response to the cult of the unconquered sun promoted by Roman emperors in the third century in their efforts to establish a new imperial religion.
However, these old theories can no longer be sustained. The decisive factor was the connection of creation and Cross, of creation and Christ’s conception.” -Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI; The Spirit of the Liturgy (pp. 105-107)
There are examples of pagan customs that were appropriated by Christians to articulate Christian truths for the purpose of evangelization. I don’t dispute this. The use of Greek philosophy in the early Church is a great example.
The reason I can accept this with confidence is because there are writings by the Church Fathers (both pro and con) that acknowledge that this was their intention.
You don’t get that with the dating of Christmas. No Church Father ever uses evangelizing pagans as a justification for accepting Dec 25th over Jan 6. It is always related to the Annunciation or the Crucifixion. –Jon Sorensen, Christmas, Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus?
Here are websites debunking the linking of Jesus with Mithras:
Mithra vs. Jesus by Tekton Apologetics
Was Jesus Christ just a Copycat Savior Myth?
Mithras by Mark McFall
The Myth of the Pagan Christmas; or, Why Stephen Fry was Wrong on Mythmas by Chris Jensen Romer
Here is a paper, refuting the supposed “pagan” roots of Christian beliefs and Christmas, which is well-cited with various sources. (Alternate source if this no longer works: here, here and here.)
It’s why silly charges that “Christmas trees are pagan” and the like just won’t stick. We probably stole them from some pagans. But they’ve been decidedly Baptized. They’re specific enough to upset the ACLU. That’s good enough for me. I would be concerned if they had lost their offense.
Neither did we borrow the date for Christmas from the pagans (that’s a 19th century German myth). The use of December 25th for Christmas predates the feast for Sol Invictus, instituted by Marcus Aurelius, by some decades. So it’s not about the winter solstice (sorry again, pagans).
Neither is the Virgin Mary a thinly disguised version of some pagan Mother Goddess. She’s nothing like her. And if the art forms of such mother goddesses influenced later iconography, well so be it. We stole their art forms. Again, sorry about that.
…Beware instead the grinches that lurk everywhere looking for pagan practices, seeking to purify a holiday which puritan ancestors long ago sought to abolish. –Fr. Stephen Freeman, Why Pagans Aren’t Really Pagan
Now on to Easter:
It is claimed—and it is not widely known that there is no solid consensus on this—that the word “Easter” is derived from the name of a pagan fertility goddess, “Estre.”
Yet the Church, since ancient times, has referred to the celebration of the Resurrection as “Pascha,” the Greek/Hebrew for “Passover,” and not “Easter,” thereby emphasizing that the Resurrection is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover….
This celebration is not based on pagan rituals; it is based on that which is revealed to us in Scripture and celebrated by the Church since apostolic times in the Church’s Holy Tradition.
Perhaps the term “Easter” is based on pagan terminology—hence it is appropriate for us to use the proper term, “Pascha”—but the eternal victory of Our Savior that we celebrate and in which we participate is hardly based on paganism. —Is Easter a pagan feast?
Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Easter.
It is an ancient Orthodox Christian tradition to have red eggs at Pascha. Many people are surprised to find out that this tradition dates to the Apostolic era. The custom of presenting each other with a red egg at Pascha reflects an interchange between Mary Magdalene and Tiberius Caesar….
Mary [was afflicted with] seven demons: those of pride, envy, wrath, avarice, sloth, gluttony, and lust. Mary struggled against the fierce attacks of these demons, and never succumbed to them.
She was unable, by her own power, to totally cast them away from herself, and it was thus necessary for Jesus Himself to cast these demons out of her. Mary Magdalene is referred to in the New Testament as the “woman out of Whom Jesus cast the seven demons.”
Mary Magdalene was about six years younger than the Panagia, the Theotokos, and was well known to her. The Mother of God loved her like a sister, and it is thus not surprising that Mary of Magdala became one of her Son’s followers.
Apparently she was a woman of some means, and her family of some significance for she helped support the work of Jesus and His disciples, and later had access to Caesar in Rome.
…Mary Magdalene is painted in iconography holding the red egg once presented to Tiberius Caesar, which she used to explain the mystery of Christ rising from a sealed tomb.
…It had become customary in Orthodox Russia to not only dye eggs red, but also to decorate them in the “pysankyy” tradition. Wealthy people and the Tsar himself had elegant jeweled eggs produced to give as gifts. The Fabergé eggs are exactly this.
The “easter bunny” and his “eggs” are a secular version of this sacred tradition.
The western tradition of dying and decorating “easter eggs” developed after the Tsars sent Fabergé eggs to the monarchs in Britain, and such decorated eggs became fashionable among all classes of people in England. —The Tradition of the Red Pascha Egg
Here William J. Tighe presents the origins of the celebration of Easter. You will see that Jewish, not pagan, practices figured into the dating of Easter.
This article shows that the Resurrection has been a centerpoint of the Church since the earliest days.
No one who has been through Orthodox Lent and Pascha, would think Easter is based on anything from paganism. The whole focus of practice, fasting and celebration during that time (and any other time), is on the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
You reflect on and repent for your sins. You are mystically present with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, during the Trial, and during the Crucifixion.
Services are full of the depths of sorrow for sin, Christ’s purpose on Earth, and hopeful teachings of what will happen to the souls of the dead. Then you rejoice as Christ is resurrected.
There is nothing here about pagan goddesses or fuzzy bunnies.
Also, the dating of Easter/Pascha was originally based on the dating of the Jewish Passover. You will note that while “Easter” is an English word, the rest of the world mostly uses names based off “Passover,” such as “Pascha” in Greek (see a list here):
The other difference in the determination of Easter between the Orthodox and other Christian Churches concerns the date of Passover.
Jews originally celebrated Passover on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Christians, therefore, celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the other tragic events, which gave rise to the dispersal of the Jews, Passover sometimes preceded the vernal equinox. This was occasioned by the dependence of the dispersed Jews upon local pagan calendars for the calculation of Passover.
As a consequence, most Christians eventually ceased to regulate the observance of Easter by the Jewish Passover. Their purpose, of course, was to preserve the original practice of celebrating Easter following the vernal equinox. –Fr. Lewis J. Patsavos, PhD, The Calendar of the Orthodox Church
(Christians celebrated on a Sunday because Christ rose on a Sunday.) Also see here.
The Orthodox date for Easter is based on a decree of the Council of Nicaea, Asia Minor, held in 325 A.D. According to this decree, Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox but always after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Orthodox Christian churches have adhered strictly to this formula. –GOARCH News Release, April 26, 2016, Orthodox Christians to Observe Pascha (Easter) May 1st
The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
In the Western Church, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks. –Borgna Brunner, A Tale of Two Easters
Those Christians who originally converted from Judaism celebrated Easter in accordance with the Jewish calendar, on the same day that the feast of the Passover, ‘Pascha’, was celebrated, that day being the 14th of the lunar month of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week upon which it fell.
The Churches of Asia Minor followed this practice whilst the other Churches both in the East and in the West, always celebrated Easter on the Sunday following this date.
…By the third century AD, all the Churches had agreed upon celebrating Easter on the Sunday following 14th of Nisan. This date was determined in accordance with the Jewish calculation of Passover, on the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, however, the Jews of the Diaspora depended upon local pagan calendars for their calculations. The feast of Passover consequently sometimes preceded the vernal equinox and most Christians abandoned the practice of regulating the date of Easter through the date of Passover in order to avoid the inaccuracy occasioned by the dependence on these calendars.
…The issue was finally brought before the First Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea in AD 325, which decreed that Easter must not be calculated according to Passover, but that it must be celebrated after the vernal equinox, specifically, on the Sunday following the first full moon occurring after the date of the vernal equinox.
Subsequently, the regulation concerning Passover was interpreted as requiring that Easter be celebrated after Passover. The Eastern Church then reverted to the original method for the determination of the date of Passover and consequently of Easter. —H.E. Metropolitan Makarios Tillyrides of Zimbabwe, When do Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter?
The dating of Easter has been subject to much debate down through the centuries, including some who used the Jewish Passover to date it, and some who decried this practice.
The Orthodox Church uses a different calendar (Julian) to date Easter, and must date it after Passover. This is why the Western and Eastern churches do not always celebrate it on the same dates.
But you see that the equinox dating of Easter is to preserve the equinox dating of Passover, NOT to adopt pagan practices, as some have accused.
It seems that even the symbol of the Cross is not safe from revisionism. A while back, probably around 1998 or 1999, I was confronted with an outrageously ignorant question, asking:
Does it bother you that the cross, supposedly a Christian symbol, was actually stolen from the Egyptians? Why or why not?
(The Egyptian cross, the ankh, was a male-female symbol similar in concept to the yin-yang. When the Christians stole the ankh from the Egyptians, they removed the female symbol, or yoni, leaving only the masculine symbol–a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that women are lesser beings).
You see, somebody on a Christian Usenet newsgroup–probably rec.music.christian–asked if anybody wanted to answer her questionnaire, saying that if they were answered to her satisfaction she would convert. I volunteered, so she sent me a modified version of Heirophant’s Proselytizer Questionnaire.
(One question: “Why are you trying to convert me?” Answer: “Because you asked.” No, I was not an “Evangelical proselytizing zealot,” and never have been, but I’m always willing to answer questions from honest seekers.)
This questionnaire is obviously meant to be witty and a way to shoot down overzealous Evangelicals, supposedly well-researched etc.
But as you can see if you have any knowledge of Christian history and theology–and especially if you’ve been looking around the websites I reference here–that questionnaire is full of ludicrously funny questions, full of ignorance about Christianity.
I don’t know where the “research” was done, but it sure wasn’t in theology books or a Bible–probably, rather, various hate sites around the notoriously inaccurate Web. (Here is one person’s answers to those questions, by a former atheist who turned Christian.)
I had no idea the questionnaire would be so huge (her version had about 150 questions). And she did not mention that it wasn’t her own creation, but came off some website copyrighted 1997.
(I found it just now by accident. When I first wrote this page, there was even a forum for people to answer the questions, at http://forum.cygnus-study.com/forumdisplay.php?f=3.)
Thinking she actually sat down and come up with all or most of the questions and was serious, I sighed and decided to plod through it, answering as best I could.
For question 121, after saying that whoever came up with that theory obviously knew nothing about history–the Cross came from the crucifixion, and the manner of the crucifixion from the Romans–I heard no more about such theories.
But now, in doing a little Web searching on the symbolism of the ankh, I’ve come across similar theories. Apparently, now people are saying the Cross comes from the ankh.
This theory does not mention the anti-woman element, just that Coptic Christians thought it would be a good idea to incorporate the popular ankh into their symbolism, and the other patriarchates soon copied them.
So now there are people saying that, yet again, the Christians stole something from the pagans.
(Some people don’t care where the Cross symbol came from, while some hate anything Christian, and take any excuse to accuse the Church of stealing pagan holidays/symbols/deities and call Christians “ignorant” for calling these “stolen items” Christian.)
Now, as is clearly shown in the above links, we cannot trust the sources of these theories to tell us the true origins of Christmas and Easter. So why should we trust them on this ankh theory? Instead, here is an extensive article by the Catholic Encyclopedia on the origins of the Cross symbol.
Also, this article shows the true meaning of the Cross for the Church.
Yes, the Coptic Church seems to have based its cross on the ankh. But that’s the Coptic Church, and there was nothing sexist about it.
There are many different Cross symbols, which seem to have developed on their own, and all go back to the Crucifixion–not to making a pagan symbol anti-woman.
Also see this article by W. Ward Gasque, which debunks the idea that Christianity basically stole from the Egyptians.
But just in case my research above is not enough to convince you, if you want to hear from an atheist–here ya go: Tim O’Neill’s History for Atheists website, an atheist writing for atheists, showing that the myths of Christmas/Easter being pagan are false. See especially:
THE GREAT MYTHS 2: CHRISTMAS, MITHRAS AND PAGANISM
EASTER, ISHTAR, EOSTRE AND EGGS
Index to my theology/church opinion pages:
–End Times and Christian Zionism
–God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine
–Cat and Dog Theology
–Raising One’s Hands in Worship
–On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
–On church buildings
–The Message Bible
–The Purpose-Driven Life
–The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers
–The idea that God has someone in mind for you
–Literalism in Biblical interpretation
–Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology, Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
–More about Pat Robertson
–Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
–Women in Marriage/the Church
–Why do bad things happen?
–Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts? Or, how should we evangelize, then?
–Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
–Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
–Hell and the Nature of God
–Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday?
–Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
–How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?
–What about predestination?
–Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
–An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God
–Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go?
–Are Spiritual Marriages “real”? (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated)
–Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
–What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
–Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
–What is Worship?
–Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
–Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge
–Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
–Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week
Phariseeism in the Church