I don't need a calendar to know when we are getting close to holidays, such as Easter, or Christmas.
My social media starts to fill up with memes about the true origins of these Christian holidays, pointing out the pagan roots of not only the dates, but also saying that many of the things we believe about God and celebrate are not original to Christianity. For Easter, it might be posts about Ēostre, for Christmas it is Yule and Horus.
There is an unspoken undercurrent in all these posts that somehow Christians aren't aware of these facts, and that if they only were then they'd realize their faith was false. It also seems to come from the perspective that these aren't Christian holidays, and that Christians have no right to claim them as their own.
I am not particularly worried by these sort of ideas because, to me, of all the criticisms of religion I see on social media they hold the least weight for a number of reasons.
It's no secret to Christians who have studied the history of the Church that as Christianity spread into new parts of the world that, instead of ignoring the customs or holidays that were being observed, they would simply use those dates as a good time to hold their own special festivals.
Putting aside the fact that everything we actually know about Ēostre comes from one reference by an 8th century monk who was likely only speculating, why does that matter anyway? There may well be pagan festivals predating Christian, but it makes good sense to use dates people are familiar with rather than expect them to completely restructure their calendar.
The reason why these dates were significant, and celebrated in the first place, is because they usually coincide with universally important times. For example, Christmas and Yule both fall around the winter solstice, when the shortening of days and lengthening of nights reach its peak. From here on in, this trend is reversed—making it a natural time to celebrate new beginnings and life.
These dates were not important because of the pagan festivals, the pagan festivals were held then because the days were important.
Besides, Easter is linked to special anniversary completely separate from European pagan traditions. We celebrate it when we do because it is inextricably linked with Passover, a Jewish tradition dating back further European history.
Corroboration Is Key
Of course, if we can see earlier version of some of the Christian stories or events in earlier holiday observations, doesn't that raise concerns about Christianity being unoriginal or derivative? I don't think so.
On a practical level, if something is a story common to multiple cultures, then common sense would tell us that is more likely to lend it credibility than the other way around. It's like if someone tells you a certain car is a lemon, you might just think they got a bad one, but everyone you know tells you to steer clear, you'd thinks seriously about staying away.
For example, every Middle Eastern culture has stories of a massive flood that decimated the region. To me that doesn't make the Ark narrative less compelling, it tells me that something did happen along those lines.
Ripples Through Time
And on a more spiritual level, the fact that in every culture, blood is a source of power and expiation, or that there is a redemptive figure who dies and is resurrected at the core of a dozen mythologies, only makes me believe more strongly that there is real power here.
C.S. Lewis said it better than I ever could, but I believe that the power of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and—above all—of the Resurrection echo not just forwards into the present but backwards into the past, like ripples in the fabric of time and space. Fragments of this truth crop up throughout history, but only in the Gospel to we get the full story.
Reason for the Season
Of course, many of these arguments are only convincing if you already believe and are looking for reassurance—which is completely okay to want when being bombarded with these messages. But, if you want a completely non religious argument, it's simple. In Western culture, we don't set aside Easter and Christmas because of Ēostre or Yule, we do it because of the Christian influence on European culture.
These dates were codified into our social calendars because of these Christian roots, not because governments of the time were filled with secret pagans. To claim otherwise is simply disingenuous.
Whether you believe or not, you're welcome to enjoy the day, to eat as many chocolate eggs as you want or trade presents with your loved ones. However, even if you choose not celebrate the spiritual part of it, you need to respect that it is sacred to a multitude, and has been for millennia—and that you get the day off for that reason.
We are seeing an increasing secularization of these holy festivals, references to Easter taken of chocolate eggs, happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas on local government signage. But, with the weight of history and the armour of truth on our side, erasing their meaning is not that easy.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a freelance writer, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html