Someone needs to say something about this.
Folks, I hate to be the bearer of scary news, but...uh...it's all pagan.
Virtually all of our rituals at this time of year have their origins in old, old pagan beliefs. From Celtic rituals to Norse Legends, and Northern European stories of grinchy old guys to get children to mind their manners...it's all pagan.
Dec 25, the day when Mithras (Roman God, "the unconquered son") had his birth celebrated. His whole story was appropriated by early Christians and wrapped around their little chid in the manger (which was imported from Egypt's story of Osiris). Virgin births are everywhere in myth...Krishna, Osiris, Mithras, Jesus ... lots of conception going on without the benefit of male sperm.
Evergreen trees to remind us of life surviving through the darkness of winter (and old Yule Logs used similarly)
A lot of this is from the Roman Saturnalia, including 12/25 as the birthday of the 'unconquered son', Mithras. (His entire story looks a LOT like the Christ myth too, but then so does Osiris's)
This is really all about the return of the sun. The winter solstice, Dec 22, the shortest day of the year. But after that, by 12/25, you can see the days are getting longer and this is incredibly important to an agrarian society. The wolves did not eat them, the sun did not stay gone, the days became longer, and the snows melted.
The germanic and scandinavian mid winter celebrations gave us trees and logs and many other rituals.
And Santa most likely grew first out of very, very old tales of a boogie man used to keep children in line. Then he got merged with Sinterklass and ultimately a Byzantine bishop. Of course he didn't really take shape until Moore dropped him down a chimney and Coca Cola took him in and fattened him up.
But make no mistake, he IS an elf, a pagan forest creature, and in most of history has been more about punishment or denial to children (remember the lump of coal) than about giving presents and having a 5 billion name address book.
None of this detracts from Christmas celebrations. Religious people can certainly participate in these lighting and singing rituals, these present exchanges and good meals. Just remember, they are all about the return of the sun ... the homophone is only coincidental.
So whoever is trying to rain on the parade of good churchgoing folk in Michigan and on the parade of many of us non-believers who still love the season and celebrate its older, deeper meanings,
It is, in fact, wonderful that the Christian religion preserved these old myths and rituals and absorbed them into their myths and legends. People need stories, myths, and celebrations to get through a life that is often harsh, brutish, and looooonnnnggg.
The world is a harsh, brutal and scary place. Every year we survive is a good year, but we, even in this day and age, can never be sure we will survive to see the return of the sun after the solstice. So there can be little wrong with celebrating that return by giving gifts, decorating trees and houses, lighting lights, and singing carols.
Anyone who thinks that these holiday celebrations should be discarded for mere religion does not understand humanity at all.