Is Advent a Pagan tradition? The short answer is, yes! A more subtle way of saying, that many Christians prefer, is that Advent has Pagan roots.
Just like many traditions of Christianity were just blatant appropriation of Pagan traditions, Advent is no different.
We will get to Advent shortly. Let’s talk Christmas tree and Mistletoe.
In Pagan traditions, an evergreen tree was a signal of ‘light’ and the ‘return of life,’ because the winter solstice simply means that days are getting longer and nights, shorter.
To signify this switch, the Pagans hanged a small red apple on an evergreen tree.
Christmas tree has small red balls hanged on them as decoration. Getting the picture?
Next, the Mistletoe!
The Druids were the ones who used it believing that it was an all-powerful healing object from the sacred oak tree.
The berry of the mistletoe ripens during December and the entire plant remains green.
According to historian Kenneth C. Davis who was interviewed by CBS This Morning, “If you met someone in the forest you gave them the sign of peace under the mistletoe so people started to hang mistletoe above their doorways as a symbol of peace. This was such a powerful symbol of Paganism that English churches actually banned the use of it.”
Davis also stated that the first ‘war on Christmas’ took place in mid-17th century, and that it was led by the Puritans.
According to Davis, the Puritans knew that the dates and the traditions of Christianity were all pagan ideas, and hence, they went on to ban Christmas in America for 20 years straight until the celebrations gained immense popularity.
Is Advent a Pagan Tradition?
Now, coming back to Advent, it was Pope Julius I who cunningly appropriated the date 25th December as the birth date of Jesus while The Bible itself remain mute on this.
Ancient midwinter festivities influenced the December date choice. In the late Roman Empire, people celebrated Natalis Invicti or Sol Invuctus (which had Syrian roots) that translates into “the Unconquered Sun” during the winter solstice to commemorate the end of the darkest days and the return of increasing daylight hours.
Natalis Invicti, observed on December 25, makes a strong case for being the direct progenitor of modern Christmas Day, and was a significant holiday for Roman devotees of the popular Mithras cult. December 17 was also the opening of the famous Saturnalia celebration, which commemorated the dedication of the deity Saturn’s temple, and also celebrated the winter solstice (a time when the days start getting longer).
Thus, the winter solstice was a significant event in ancient civilizations – the New Year and the new life cycle started here, and in addition to Mithraism’s Natalis Invicti and the popular Roman Saturnalias, we should include the Yule feast enjoyed by German and Norse pagans at this time.
The date 25th December was a deliberately chosen date by Pope Julius I, because it neatly overlapped with the Roman Saturnalia celebrations that started on 17th December and extended all the way up to 23rd December, and with Natalis Invicti that was celebrated on December 25. It even aligned with Jewish Hannukah.
Now, the term Advent comes from Latin ‘adventus,’ which in English, translates into ‘to come.’ Advent is the season marking the preparation for and celebration of the birth of Jesus. It starts four Sundays before Christmas and ends exactly on Christmas Eve. It is also the time for the faithful to anticipate the Second Coming of Jesus.
Followers celebrate Advent by lighting candles on Advent wreath. They also read passages and scriptures on Sundays that lead up to Christmas.
How Does Advent Relate to Pagan Practices?
Long before the time of Christianity, the Pagan communities across the world used to set aside weeks before the winter solstice. These weeks were a time to honor the coming of the “light,” that is, the return of the Sun where days started getting longer. The Romans, in particular, celebrated winter solstice by lighting candles, gift giving, decorating houses, and signing.
The four weeks of Advent in Christianity are marked by headlong rush and busy season of buying, wrapping, and sending gifts, sending cards, decorating houses, lighting candles, and so on.
No one can say for sure when Advent introduced, but it did pop out of the Pagan traditions, and there is no denying of it.
Christians can believe what they may but imbuing long-held traditions and rituals of Paganism with Christian meaning doesn’t make those traditions and rituals ‘Christian’ in true sense. They existed long before Christianity came into existence, and they still exist and will continue to exist in several other religions.
So, is Advent a Pagan tradition? Yes, it is a Pagan tradition impregnated with Christian meaning. Subtly said, it has Pagan roots.