What Star is This? The Pagan Origins of Christmas Symbols

What Star is This? The Pagan Origins of Christmas Symbols

(Read the article on one page)

Rooted in the cyclical pagan year, Christmas can be linked back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice around December 21st, a time when the night was at its longest, and the coming of the “light” was celebrated and revered. New hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, all represented the end point of one natural cycle, and beginning of another. The Solstice may have been the longest and darkest of days and nights, but from that point on, there would be more light and the promise of a coming spring.

Roots in Ancient Tradition

Our traditional ‘Western” Christmas holiday actually has its roots in ancient Celtic and Saxon tradition. The Celts and Saxons celebrated “Yula” or “wheel of the year,” which became our modern Yule. This was often held on the actual day of the Solstice.

Painted Wheel of the Year

Painted Wheel of the Year ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

This gala involved the burning of a log that was lit on the eve of the solstice and burned for twelve hours. It signified good luck and a prosperous coming year. Trees were later used instead, with lights placed upon them in the form of small candles—and thus the Christmas tree was born! Usually it was an evergreen, decorated with holly and mistletoe as these two plants were revered as fertility symbols.

Painting of the Yule Log being brought in at Hever Castle, 19th century

Painting of the Yule Log being brought in at Hever Castle, 19th century ( Public Domain )

Celts believed that mistletoe was an aphrodisiac, which is the reason why people all over the world now kiss under the hanging mistletoe.

The tradition of the Christmas tree really took off in 16th century Germany when Christians began to use them in their homes, decorating them with candles and later, when the tradition spread into other parts of Europe, with small, sweet treats. The first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in England in 1841 was covered with candles, fruits and gingerbread, and eventually in the 1850s, the use of small toys and trinkets, often fairies, dolls, horns and bells. 

The biggest part of the Yule celebration was food and drink, mainly the wassail cup, which is mentioned in many a favorite traditional Christmas carol. The word wassail comes from the Old English “ wes hal ,” literally “ be in good health .” Beyond the wassail cup, food has continued to be a staple of holiday celebration, with feasting that might continue for days and of course, the imbibing of spirits to make “merry.”

Mithras, Sun King

But there is another origin myth behind the birth of Christ. Ancient Romans revered the Sun God Mithras, who also allegedly shared a virgin birth origin (born of a virgin in a cave on December 25th) and was called the Sun of God, or Sun King. In fact, many scholars insist the legend of Christ is nothing more than a rewrite of the Mithras story, with the Sun God becoming the Son of God, and the imagery of light that was associated with the Sun now associated with the Christ as the “light of the world.”

Marble relief of a Mithraic tauroctony scene from the Capitol, Rome, Italy, of the Roman cult figure of Mithras sacrificing a bull.

Marble relief of a Mithraic tauroctony scene from the Capitol, Rome, Italy, of the Roman cult figure of Mithras sacrificing a bull. (Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Mithras was related to a Semitic Sun-God, Shamash, and was called “Deus Sol Invictus Mithras” by those who worshipped him.


This FREE PREVIEW is just a taste of the great benefits you can find at Ancient Origins Premium. 

Join us there  with easy, instant access  ) and reap the rewards:  NO MORE ADS, NO POPUPS, GET FREE eBOOKS, JOIN WEBINARS, EXPEDITIONS, WIN GIFT GIVEAWAYS & more!

Top Image: Deriv; Mithras slaying the bull ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ), ancient star/sun symbol of Shamash, and Adoration of the Magi ( Public Domain )

By Marie D. Jones


In my opinion, I always thought that was the origin of the Christmas Tree. Instead of putting a branch by the door the entire tree came inside to ward off evil.

As a youth, i lived in a small village in Southern Germany. At Christmas time a group of boys would dress Up as Christmas trees. Really primative Christmas trees. They would go into the Forest and cut off shortish branches of pine trees. The branches would be tied to their clothes and hat so you could barely even notice that there was a boy under there. The boys would knock on the villagers doors asking for Christmas money. When you gave them money they would break off a branch and place it in the dirt by the front door. The branch was there to keep the evil spirits away. If you did not pay something really bad would happen. It was so entrenched that it was unthinkable to not pay.

The christmas tree goes back at the very least, 2600 years. It is described in the Book of Jeremiah. It is not a good thing.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The excavation of the Oseberg Ship, Norway. 1904 - 1905.
In the autumn of 834 AD, two elderly women were buried together in the magnificent Oseberg ship discovered in 1903 near Tønsberg in Vestfold, Southeast Norway. Ever since the ship was excavated in 1904-1905, many theories have been put forward about who these women were. The objects they took with them to the grave may provide the answer to this Viking Age mystery.

Human Origins

Kalash girls with traditional clothing.
The Kalash (known also as the Kalasha) are an indigenous people living in what is today Pakistan. Although Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, with more than 95% of its population being adherents of Islam, the Kalash hold on to their own religious beliefs, along with their own identity, way of life, and language.

Ancient Technology

10 Innovative Medieval Weapons: You Would Not Want To Be At The Sharp End Of These!
Long before modern warfare, there was a time of knights in shining armor atop equally armored horses fighting for the hand of a maiden or in pitched battle. However, the weapons that these knights wielded expanded far past that of an ordinary sword and shield.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article