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Author Topic: The history of modern Yule and Christmas traditions?  (Read 5731 times)
Waldfrau
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« Topic Start: December 09, 2008, 04:26:54 am »

This thread is intended to discuss the common roots and the different development of related traditions in Christianity and Pagan religions. I wonder what we would get if we look at it with a positive attitude, not ask 'who stole what from whom?' but how different religions did inspire each other in the development of their traditions. Smiley


As most of you know Christianity adapted some of its Christmas traditions from ancient Pagan religions. I wonder if Christianity has therefore inspired Neopagan religions in return.

Have modern Yule traditions been derived from historical sources about ancient Pagan traditions or from Pagan-rooted traditions in a Christian context?

So have some ancient Pagan Yule tradition gone through a Christian transitory before they appeared in Neopagan Yule traditions?

How do you think Neopagan traditions are affected by this?

Is there still an influence of each other in celebrating Yule/Christmas today?


Thanks for your answers and thoughts.
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folksymama
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« Reply #1: December 09, 2008, 12:57:49 pm »


As most of you know Christianity adapted some of its Christmas traditions from ancient Pagan religions. I wonder if Christianity has therefore inspired Neopagan religions in return.

I tend to think...not really.  I've sat here and tried to come up with a neo-pagan yule tradition that seems Christian-inspired, and I really can't come up with anything.

Quote
Have modern Yule traditions been derived from historical sources about ancient Pagan traditions or from Pagan-rooted traditions in a Christian context?

I think the former.  Obviously a lot of these traditions are carried out in a Christian context now, but I think the majority of pagans look at the traditions as being rooted in ancient practices, and having been borrowed (not stolen Wink ) by Christianity.

Quote
So have some ancient Pagan Yule tradition gone through a Christian transitory before they appeared in Neopagan Yule traditions?

Yes, I believe so.  If I'm informed correctly, a lot of neo-pagan religions are newer, or younger, than Christianity.  I think a lot of the practices were kind of buried in Christianity for a while, but are now seeing emergence as part of neo-pagan practices.  I don't know that many ancient pagan religions have survived the conversion...as in, were practiced continually throughout, so I think these practices survived through Christianity.
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Juniper
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« Reply #2: December 09, 2008, 09:32:44 pm »

Have modern Yule traditions been derived from historical sources about ancient Pagan traditions or from Pagan-rooted traditions in a Christian context?

I think both. I do think it's possible that some NeoPagan Yule traditions have been derived from ancient Pagan traditions, although it seems to me that some people put a little too much stock in this sometimes. The idea that Christianity embraced some ancient Pagan traditions and thus brought them forward to the time of NeoPaganism seems extremely likely to me. Not that I'm an expert.

So have some ancient Pagan Yule tradition gone through a Christian transitory before they appeared in Neopagan Yule traditions?

Yes, I would say so. It seems likely that the way some NeoPagans dress their 'Christmas Trees' today is greatly influenced by the Christian tradition. It is said that Christmas Trees have roots in the Germanic Yuletide tradition, and yet I'm sure Christianity has had as much (if not more) influence on NeoPagan 'Christmas Trees'.

Is there still an influence of each other in celebrating Yule/Christmas today?

I'm not sure. Perhaps. I do however think it's nice that Yuletide/Winter Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah all fall at around the same time of year. I like the general holiday feeling of this time of year.
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Waldfrau
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« Reply #3: December 10, 2008, 02:36:45 am »

Yes, I would say so. It seems likely that the way some NeoPagans dress their 'Christmas Trees' today is greatly influenced by the Christian tradition. It is said that Christmas Trees have roots in the Germanic Yuletide tradition, and yet I'm sure Christianity has had as much (if not more) influence on NeoPagan 'Christmas Trees'.

I've just started to read a fascinating book:

Rätsch/Müller-Ebeling: Pagan Christmas. The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide
http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Christmas-Spirits-Rituals-Yuletide/dp/1594770921/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228893871&sr=8-1

They say that the Germanic tradition was to honor trees in the forest and only take branches to the house to ward it. The church had first forbidden this as 'idolatry' and cut down holy trees. When this didn't help much they dedicated them to Mary, saints or Jesus. Christmas trees as cut trees in the house became popular in the 19th and 20th century. So I'd say the Christmas tree is a tradition with roots, but formed in a Christian context.

Rätsch also noted that often the original meaning of a tradition gets lost when time changes.


I wonder how many Pagans have trees in their house and who honors outside ones?
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Juniper
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« Reply #4: December 10, 2008, 04:40:30 pm »

Rätsch/Müller-Ebeling: Pagan Christmas. The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide
http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Christmas-Spirits-Rituals-Yuletide/dp/1594770921/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228893871&sr=8-1

That sounds like an interesting read.

They say that the Germanic tradition was to honor trees in the forest and only take branches to the house to ward it.

That's odd-- this is exactly what my step mum and me would do when I was younger. We would go for a walk around the forest a few weeks before Christmas, and then take a fallen branch and bring it home. We then used that as our 'Christmas Tree', as we would paint it white and silver and hang baubles on it.

I wonder how many Pagans have trees in their house and who honors outside ones?

We have a little four foot tree in our house, but it's artificial. I would love a real tree, but I just feel as though it's such a waste. My Mum would get an enormous tree every year and then after Christmas just throw it outside in the garden. For months this tree would just sit there and disintergrate, and it made me sad every time I saw it.
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'How she longed for winter then!-
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,
And heart's frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake'
~Sylvia Plath
folksymama
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« Reply #5: December 10, 2008, 05:53:02 pm »

We have a little four foot tree in our house, but it's artificial. I would love a real tree, but I just feel as though it's such a waste. My Mum would get an enormous tree every year and then after Christmas just throw it outside in the garden. For months this tree would just sit there and disintergrate, and it made me sad every time I saw it.
I love our real trees, and I just can't get "into" a fake one.  I love the smell, love going out to pick it out, love the trauma of trying to get it in the house, lol.  But, it does bother me to take one from the forest.  We always put it outside near the birdfeeder after we're done with it and hang popcorn, cranberries, pinecone feeders, suet, pieces of toast with peanut butter and birdseed on them, etc. from it.  Then we burn it in our furnace.  So it does still get some life and serve a purpose after it leaves the house, but, yeah...it's does seem wasteful.
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Caroline
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« Reply #6: December 10, 2008, 06:19:44 pm »

I love our real trees, and I just can't get "into" a fake one.  I love the smell, love going out to pick it out, love the trauma of trying to get it in the house, lol.  But, it does bother me to take one from the forest.  We always put it outside near the birdfeeder after we're done with it and hang popcorn, cranberries, pinecone feeders, suet, pieces of toast with peanut butter and birdseed on them, etc. from it.  Then we burn it in our furnace.  So it does still get some life and serve a purpose after it leaves the house, but, yeah...it's does seem wasteful.

We get a tree each year from a tree farm. I think of it as another sort of harvest - I may not be able to eat it like a carrot, but for many small farm it's a cash crop that helps keep them in business - I'm big into buying local, and this is part of how I support my local farmers. And given all what you do with it afterwards (ours just goes to compost), I don't think you have any reason to feel wasteful!
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Juniper
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« Reply #7: December 10, 2008, 08:47:37 pm »

I love our real trees, and I just can't get "into" a fake one.  I love the smell, love going out to pick it out, love the trauma of trying to get it in the house, lol.  But, it does bother me to take one from the forest.  We always put it outside near the birdfeeder after we're done with it and hang popcorn, cranberries, pinecone feeders, suet, pieces of toast with peanut butter and birdseed on them, etc. from it.  Then we burn it in our furnace.  So it does still get some life and serve a purpose after it leaves the house, but, yeah...it's does seem wasteful.

I grew up about half an hour away from one of the National Parks in England, and not that far from us was Macclesfield Forest- quite a big evergreen forest. My dad's house is on a hill that looks out towards the forest, and you wouldn't believe the size of the hole there in the middle of the otherwise dense forest. When I was a kid I asked my dad why there was a gap in the forest, and he said that's where the Christmas trees come from. And sure enough, every year we had been going to Macclesfield Forest to pick ourselves a Christmas Tree. It wasn't until I was about 11 that they began the scheme of planting a new tree for every one chopped down.

I guess it's this experience that now means I always get an artificial tree. Even though I agree- the smell is wonderful.
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'How she longed for winter then!-
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,
And heart's frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake'
~Sylvia Plath
Meabh
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« Reply #8: December 12, 2008, 01:34:49 pm »

Have modern Yule traditions been derived from historical sources about ancient Pagan traditions or from Pagan-rooted traditions in a Christian context?
So have some ancient Pagan Yule tradition gone through a Christian transitory before they appeared in Neopagan Yule traditions?
How do you think Neopagan traditions are affected by this?
Is there still an influence of each other in celebrating Yule/Christmas today?

I think that it's a mix.  Some of the yule traditions that my family does are derived from historical sources and some have been filtered through and influenced by Christian traditions.  It's hard to tell exactly what was original and what was changed because so many ancient traditions were given explanations and meanings from a Christian context.

The crossover hapens in strange ways.  I have a Yule party every year and the music is a mix of Irish and Scottish music, maritime (eastern Canadian) music and some christmas tunes.  I tend to avoid the songs that are very religious (no "away in a manger")  but some of it is in there.  I have a sun on the top of my tree, but also have bells on it (which I'm pretty sure are a christian influence).  A friend of mine bought a decoration for me last year which is a penticle (not a symbol I use but she knows I'm pagan and was trying to get something appropriate).  She also bought herself one because she thought it was pretty, she's Catholic. 

Holly 
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