I’m reposting this nice summary from Richard Spencer discussing the Germanic pagan influence on medieval Christianity (“Ghosts of Christmas Past“):
We have become so accustomed to Christmas rituals—and so accustomed to them in the form of kitsch—that we forget how deep they take us into our people’s history . . . far deeper than what the holiday is said to celebrate. For the rituals through which we understand ourselves are fundamentally Pagan in both essence and form.
In his famous book The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, James Russell wrote of a “double conversion” that occurred when the early Church began spreading beyond the Mediterranean and Near East and sought to bring “the Germans” (i.e., the northern European tribes) into the Christian fold. At the time, these Europeans practiced what is now referred to as Germanic Paganism, a constellation of myths, gods, and symbols that was, at once, centered on the tribe and family and also shared by White men across the continent. Europeans did, eventually, profess Christianity, but the real “conversion” was that of Christianity itself, which both accommodated Europeans folkways and began to be articulated by them.
This process occurred on various levels of society and culture, from the Europeanized image and conception of Christ to notions of Right and sovereignty. The mix of Germanic, Scandinavian, and Roman customs that define “Christmas” is a metaphor of this history. For Christmas remains the most radically Pagan of all holidays, if we have the eyes to see it.
This begins with the day itself. Nowhere in the Bible does December 25 appear as the birth date of Jesus Christ. (If the shepherds were attending their flocks by night (Luke 2:8), then Jesus would have been born in Spring.) December 25 was, however, well known as the birthday of Sol Invictus, the sun god who was patronized by later Roman emperors (including Constantine). The 25th was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti—”Birthday of the Unconquered Sun,” when, after the Winter Solstice, the arc of the Sun across the sky begins to rise again. The famous literary pun of “Son” and “Sun” (which works across Germanic languages) was a real experience of our ancestors.
After the day itself, the real meanings of things we take for granted unlock themselves before our eyes: the evergreen (the endless life cycle), the Yule log (festival of fire), kissing under the Mistletoe (the sacred plant of Frigg, goddess of love, fertility, and the household). And, of course, Santa. “St. Nick” is only remotely related to Saint Nicholas, a Church father at the Council of Nicaea whose feast day falls on December sixth. The character of Santa is much more a conflation of various Germanic gods and personages. One of these, as evidenced by Santa’s descent into the fiery chimney, is the smithy god Hephaistos or Vulcan. (“The Church Lady,” and many puritans before her, was right to fear that Santa has an etymological connection to Satan.) Most important of all is the chief god, Odin or Wotan, who stares out at us from behind Santa’s many historical masks—from Father Frost (Ded Moroz), the Slavic god accepted by Russian Communists, to the jolly fat man promoted by Coca Cola. Odin is the Wanderer from the North, a god of war, but one who delivers gifts to children during Yuletide. Odin commands Sleipnir, the horse with eight legs, who, in his translation to contemporary myth, became the eight reindeer: Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!