Yes, we know. Christians repurpose pagan festivals.

This is Jesus when he reads online comments. Credit: MWaits / Shutterstock
This is Jesus when he reads online comments.
Credit: MWaits / Shutterstock

Well, you know it is a major Christian festival when the academic and social media sites I frequent put out yet another ‘expose’ of Christianity. I yawned at another article this morning exposing the fact that easter eggs are actually not Christian symbols! Are there any Christians out there that actually do not know this? I mean, this is the stuff of Sunday School, right? Some Christians even reject Easter eggs, call the festival ‘Resurrection day’, and are reported to actually not spend the entire day sitting around eating chocolate. And they go to church instead, and like, celebrate. Other Christians are entirely aware of the history of Easter/Eostre, fertility festivals, eggs and bunny symbols and choose to celebrate by partying with whatever they have: chocolate, hot-cross buns, and eggs are all permissible (if not beneficial to the waistline).

Last Christmas, The Conversation ran an article about exposing the ‘myth’ of the Christ of history, which turned out to be based on Ralph Lataster’s book that was ‘reviving’ the historical Jesus debates of yore. The ABC in Australia ran a counterpoint article, where John Dickson, Lataster’s ex-history professor, publicly critiques Lataster’s Conversation piece, suggesting it ‘would not receive a pass mark in any history class’. According to Dickson, Lataster doesn’t even specialise in history, yet the piece was picked up by The Washington Post — hence Dickson felt the need to rebut it. There is market, then, for these sorts of article around festival times. It was probably helpful for drawing attention to Lataster’s book, so I totally understand the motive.

I guess because there seems to be demand for these sorts of articles around festival times, we might as we at least get people writing decent ones. Although it rehashed the there-is-nothing-Christian-about-Easter-eggs point again, this article by Rod Blackhurst does put it nicely, and proposes that repurposing old festivals is one of the strengths of the Christian tradition. Christianity is painted as the fulfillment of other ancient religions, such as paganism. I happen to agree with Blackhurst here. And although I might yawn and get annoyed with these sorts of exposes, I am horrified by the vitriolic responses they get in the comments. Like the old feminist saying “the responses in the comments to any article about women or feminism justify the existence of feminism”, I think the responses to any piece about religion justify the existence of religion. It appears some people are so spiritually embittered and bound that they cannot accept peaceful co-existence with people of other beliefs or religions.

Granted, people of all religions have been involved in violence, often at a national level (and if you like to exclude Buddhists here, as some do, I respectfully point to current world affairs particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar), and thus there are many good reasons why people might be wary about a particular religion, or religion in general. But organised violence is not limited to religion: any institution can sponsor violence. If it is linked to anything at all, I’d be more likely to link it to the state and to capitalism.

I think the great traditions of the religions of the world do have important spiritual lessons for us. No matter how reluctant we are to admit it, there are some spiritual practices that seem to cross boundaries and are probably based on lots of people coming to similar conclusions about the development of the human spirit. Here I think of practices such as mindfulness, fasting, prayer, acts of service, humility, vows and so on. And I think whether I agree with the particularities of their religion or not,  people gathering together to try and improve their spiritual development and share teachings is something I basically agree with. I simply cannot understand the hatred by which atheists online address people of faith. Nor can I understand the hatred by which crazed representatives of my faith address those they see as dangerous and different. The only thing I can put it down to is fear and insecurity. And for that, I guess I just have to feel sorry for them, because from whatever background they are coming from,  they still have a lot of spiritual growing to do.

Happy Resurrection Day! And may this new year be one of miraculous renewal and spiritual growth for me & mine and you & yours.

4 thoughts on “Yes, we know. Christians repurpose pagan festivals.

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  1. I think it is different here in the USA. Here I don’t think that most Christians know of the pagan origins of Christian festivals, or if they do, they prefer to ignore or deny it. There are whole tracts and websites devoted to things like proving that JC was REALLY born on December 25th. I didn’t learn the origin of Easter eggs or the Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe, etc. until I was in my 30s and had become a Unitarian-Universalist. And I like to read social history. So I find these types of articles fascinating, although I agree, I could do without the breathless “expose”-type language. I always thought the hype surrounding Brown’s Da Vinci Code was similarly overwrought. It wasn’t new–it had all been published most recently 20 years earlier in Holy Blood/Holy Grail. But it was good marketing–it sold books.


  2. Thanks KL, interesting to hear that. The article I was referring to was written in Australia, and I haven’t found Australians to be particularly unaware (I am a kiwi), but then, maybe I just move in a particular circle!? I also don’t know anyone who voted for Tony Abbott but a whole pile of people must have!!


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