Muslim celebrations are legislated by God and the Messenger Muhammad. Their origin is based on textual evidence, Quran and Hadith, and they are celebrated to mark God’s worship and devotion to Him.
Many other celebrations that have religious or cultural associations are in fact pagan in origin. Paganism refers to polytheistic religions. In the European context this would include the religions of the Greeks, Romans, Norse, and others. In Islamic nomenclature, pagan refers to things that God did not legislate or approve of, rather they are man-made traditions and customs. In this blog, we will look at five common celebrations that have paganism at their roots:
Scholars have long argued about the exact date of the birth of Jesus. However, many experts agree that it was not the 25th of December. Where did Christmas come from then? For an ancient Roman, December 25th was the time to celebrate Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. The Sun God was venerated under different names all over the enormous territory of the Roman Empire and became the most important god during the 3rd century AD. The emperor Aurelianus built a big temple for the Sun God in Rome and inaugurated it right on December 25th, 274 AD. December 25th was the last day of more than a week of celebrations in Rome, known as Saturnalia. The most significant aspect of the Saturnalia was the traditional exchange of gifts as people do for Christmas now.
New Year’s Day
For the Romans, New Year’s Day was a very important date, but the most interesting fact is that originally the Roman year didn’t start on January 1st, but in March. This was mainly because March was the month dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war, which was also believed to be the divine father of Romulus, the founder of Rome. However, it was Julius Caesar in 46 BC, with his Julian Calendar, who permanently established the holiday on January 1st. Just like people now celebrate on the eve of a new year, the Romans would also feast the night before.
Easter is a very peculiar Christian holiday, which doesn’t fall on a specific date like the other festivities, but is based on the cycle of the moon: in fact, it falls on the first Spring Sunday after the new moon. But many traditions associated with Easter show completely different (and pagan) origins: in fact, the word “Easter” itself comes from the name of Eostre, the Germanic goddess of Spring. The famous Easter Eggs and the Easter bunny, which is supposed to deliver candies to the kids, were originally associated with Eostre, as symbols of rebirth and fertility.
Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
The idea of celebrating the date of your birth is a pagan tradition. In fact, many Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays historically, because of that link to paganism. Pagans thought that evil spirits lurked on days of major changes, like the day you turn a year older. The ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit that attended his or her birth, and kept watch. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays. The candles were a response to the evil spirits that showed up to communicate with the gods.
Muslims should only participate in celebrations that are legislated and ordained by God. Part of being devoted servants of God is to ensure that our actions, behaviours, and life events comply with God’s teachings, regardless of the actions of others around us. Muslims have a distinct identity which is Divine in origin and it stands out from man-made systems and traditions.