17 December, 2014

'Tis the Season (to discuss "stealing" traditions)

Hey, Readers,

Yule is approaching fast in the Northern Hemisphere (I don't know if that needs to be capitalized, but, oh well) and you know what that means! Pagans are talking about Christians "stealing" Yule and people are discussing appropriation. Someone I follow on tumblr said they'd been seeing a lot of those "Christians stole Yule" posts on their dash, so I reblogged with a link to a video I made two years ago on Yule:

After this, I received a question in the Ask box of my tumblr, and my answer was pretty long. It's posted on my tumblr, but I wanted to re-post it here with a little extra.

xombiepanda asked:
I was just wondering, because of the "Christians stole Yule" discussion that's going on, if you equate the early church's actions as cultural appropriation. Or would it be more along the lines of cultural takeover? As always, you make the best points and have a wonderful ability to explain things in your videos. Thanks for being awesome.

There is a lot going on in this discussion, as you can see! I really do have many other questions surrounding this topic, as I alluded to above. One other thing I find interesting is that many of the Pagans saying "Christians stole XYZ" may very well be the same Pagans who incorporate practices from other religions and aren't bothered by that. The difference probably has to do with what people think of as respectful or disrespectful use. It also has to do with the ideas of permission I mentioned here, and who we trust to grant permission, or to revoke it. As I mention in the video linked toward the start of this post, it absolutely does bother me when people refuse to learn about the origins of a practice they use in their own faith, and especially when people derogate my views and practices while at the same time using those practices themselves. This, to me, is a disrespectful use. I am not bothered by those who acknowledge the origins of practices (and even enjoy the occasional discussion about what the heck it has to do with their religion anyway) and simply keep them because they resonate with them, whether it be due to religion or just to a family connection. Similarly, I am not bothered when people of other faiths want to talk about the use of practices from their culture in Paganism, and often want to provide more accurate information for use. I am bothered when anyone assumes that no one knows anything about the origins, could not possibly be respecting them, and believes we should not be allowed to use them even if they do, in fact, resonate with us, because of who we are in this lifetime.

This, I realize, is a VERY touchy subject. It is for this reason that I generally prefer not to discuss it online. At the same time, I take every opportunity I am able to learn about what individuals personally feel about this matter when I meet them, always knowing that--again, as I mentioned above in my response--whole groups will not agree on any question. I could go on for hours on this subject and the various ways it expresses itself in the life of an eclectic Pagan, especially one who has even a remote online presence as such a Pagan. Instead, I'll wrap this up for now and hopefully bring us to some place of action.

Do I understand where the "Christians stole Yule" feeling comes from? Absolutely. Did I feel this way at one time, myself? I did! Do I think it's an appropriate or necessary response at this point in my path? No, I do not. I don't believe we benefit from it in the long run at all. It is helpful only in the sense that it allows us to feel a bit righteous, and other than that, it is just negativity. I'm not saying don't be angry about it if you have to for a bit--as I said, I was, at one point, especially when I was just learning about all this. I felt like I should have known! Why didn't I know this before now?! If someone had taught me about it earlier, maybe I wouldn't have been as shocked and angry when I learned about it myself (often from the exact people saying "Christians stole Yule!" on the internet). It's important to acknowledge feelings like this in order to work through them, in any situation. Believe me, after one particular year of my life, I KNOW that to be true, and I fully believe it. You can't just ignore feelings and expect them to go away.

But why do so many Pagans hold onto this, year after year? Why do I meet Pagans at local events who, from start to finish, talk only about how they dislike other faiths for derogating us, and then when they've finished, start telling the story again? What do we gain from these negative feelings? And what about those of us who are so angry about this, but have no understanding of how some people from other cultures feel about us? It's not all people, it's not all of us, it's not all of the others. But it's people. This happens. Why? When? How long? What could we do to change this?

What could we do to change this, and for the better? I have some ideas. We could take any opportunity we have to educate, in a respectful manner. We could live by example. We could enter into discussions with people, always respectfully, and learn more about their point of view, as well (even if you don't really get a chance to put forth your/"our" point of view, learning about other viewpoints can help a lot, too. For one example of that in my life, you may choose to check out this video). We could also spend some time thinking about our own reasons for these feelings. Sometimes just understanding why we feel a certain way helps to start breaking it down, seeing where we feel it's justified and necessary and where we can do without it.

What do you think? Why does this happen, and how can we make it better for everyone?

Thank you for reading,

A little while after I posted the "On 'Stealing' Traditions" video, I wrote this blog, stemming from a comment someone left about how we can't be happy that we "still have" Yule because unless we're reconstructionists, it isn't ours to "still have" in the first place. Please read Neos & Recons.

If you liked this post, you may also want to check out these other blog posts of mine, some of which link to the videos that accompany them:

And here is the search result when you look up "appropriation" as a keyword on Pagan Perspective, so you may see some of the other videos the other hosts and I have done on the subject!


EDIT: 22 Dec. 2014
I wanted to share this Huffington Post article that describes a few winter solstice celebrations:



  1. You know that's a good question about the northern hemisphere, at first you would assume that it dose have to be capitalized since it's usually used in context of being a specific place in this case the Earth's northern hemisphere, but in reality the term isn't a proper noun since you could be referring to the northern or "top" half (in space there is no up or down except for which way your head is pointing) of any celestial body as divided by it's equator.

    Alright now for the main event! This subject matter isn't really touchy as much as the phrasing "How Christians stole Yule". If you wanted to compare propaganda or words forged solely for the purpose of instigating arguments and I use the word arguments loosely as it implies some sort of logical debate, rather then just pure petty bickering and insult slinging, then "How the Christians Stole Yule" is a expertly crafted katana sharp enough to split a hair falling on it's blade in half. It's a one dimensional and simple statement statement designed to trigger defensive feelings amongst both sides, it's also terribly inaccurate. "Is it true that SOME of the most iconic and famous Christmas traditions found in countries that have a cultural heritage that descends from the anglosaxons, have their origins in the Germanic holiday of Yule?" is a far better title for such arguments if you ask me.

    The very very early church wouldn't have celebrated Christmas of course since, the very concept celebrating birth anniversaries aka birthdays was not a Jewish. However the celebration of birthdays was common practice in Rome where Christianity first gained tidal wave popularity. So, around the 200s A.D the subject of Jesus' birthrate became increasingly important. The first time the use of the day December 25th as the day that Christ was born, was in the mid fourth Century in a Roman almanac. This was well BEFORE the Christians had contact with the Germanic tribes, so the date is definitely not intended to coincide with Yule.

    Why the day of December 25 was used it frankly a mystery, it's not always been the uniform choice for celebrating Jesus' birth the Eastern church chose January 6 to recognize that holiday. There are two main theories regarding why Christmas was chosen to be celebrated on the 25th. The first is that it was close to the Roman mid-winter festival of Saturnalia, and so the Christians chose this date on purpose to blend the two feasts together. The only thing wrong with this theory is the fact that this was during the height of the Christian persecution, and early Christians were more then ever eager to distance themselves from polytheistic traditions. The other theory is that, since the day Jesus died March 25 according to the Roman solar calendar, exactly 9 months after that date and you end up with December 25, the thought that Jesus was conceived or came down to the Earth on the same day he was Crucified or in other words departed, whether true or not would have been a provocative one. This concept was first found in a Christian treatise from North Africa that dates back to the fourth century.

    to be continued....

    1. In saying it was a touchy subject, I was referring to the whole idea of practitioners using what resonates with them, as some people take extreme offense to that.

      Most sources do discuss the date coinciding with the date of Saturnalia or the solstice after the conversion of the emperor to Christianity, bringing many of the Roman traditions with it, but the traditions of Yule and other winter solstice celebrations have become part of the mix somewhere down the line, as well. This timeline is a good point to bring up.

  2. Okay now that we got it straight that the date was not intended to copy or over right Yule, Saturnalia is arguable but definitely not Yule. Lets move on to the traditions. The decorating of a pine tree is definitely from Yule, the kissing under the mistletoe is also from Yule. After all we can see that the mistletoe definitely had significance for the Norse, it's even present in the popular myth where Loki throws mistletoe at Baldir as a "prank" (that was totally done on purpose but that's a whole different subject he was also the Jotun bioch that refused to cry for him, but again whole other subject).

    However the integration of these in SOME countries' Christmas traditions might not have been done entirely out of malice in some occasions they might have just been kept by the converts themselves.
    Also Christmas traditions are a lot broader then what you as an American might associate with Christmas. In Cuba as well as the rest of Latin America more importance is placed on an elaborate nativity scene then in the Christmas tree.

    wow this is a long post, peace out.

    1. Yes, I would agree that much of the use of the traditions wasn't intended maliciously. People just kept doing what they wanted and incorporated it into their evolving faith.

      And while you're correct that I'm American, the traditions mentioned are largely European, which probably has to do with why they came to America. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the Nativity in America, too, depending on the family and their personal religious background, or the church in question. Churches in my area decorate with Nativity scenes outdoors on display, and sometimes poinsettia, but not with trees and other things. It's mostly within the families and businesses that we see the other traditions. I have no doubt that other countries may have Christmas traditions based on their own country's practices that differ from anything done in America, but we do have a large mix, and the Nativity is certainly part of American Christmas celebrations, at least for Christians and Catholics.

      Thank you for all your thoughts!

  3. Re-read what I wrote and i want to make some quick corrections, I write my blog comments so fast I don't bother to proof read and now I'm embarrassed. It's been a while since I've read the poetic eddas so I looked up Norse mythology to refresh my memory. So yeah Frigg had asked an oath from every thing, that they would not harm Baldr, since it was prophesied that he would die, all except for the mistletoe since it seemed like such a harmless and insignificant thing. Then when all the Aesir were making a sport of throwing spears and what not at Baldr since he could not be harmed by anything that had made the oath, Loki made a spear out of mistletoe and handed it to Hod who was blind.

    The reason why I made the statement that you find these "Yule-esque" traditions in America more so then you do in other countries is because part of it's cultural heritage is Anglo Saxon in origins being that the majority of colonist came from the British Isles. This is precisely why and how some Yule traditions became mixed in with Christmas, since Christmas does fall so near solstice when the already Christianized Romans came into contact with the people of the British Isle and other decedents of the Germanic tribes like you said, kept doing what they knew. However Christmas and Yule are distinct holidays and they exist independently of each other.

    Now what really turns my face red! I wrote 'over right' instead of 'over-write' which is ironic because I started my post talking about grammar. LOL!