Alan Green wrote:It's not just Christmas; Christianity hijacked Halloween too - 1st November is "All Saints"
It's a massive subject and difficult to know where to start - the Wassailing ritual still takes place in some villages, and the Oxford Book of Carols has Carols for Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, summer and harvest (a Carol has a short repeated refrain at the end of each verse, take "Hark the herald angels sing" as the best-known example).
Well a carol was a dance originally
I guess that the church must be disappointed that the gluttony/drunkenness aspects have survived well, and in an extended period (Advent was considered traditionally a period of austerity I think, not a time for several pre-christmas meals with colleagues and friends.
Perhaps a re-hijacking
Hopefully others will chime in about the solstice festivals and harvest . . .
RE: 6th of January. This goes back to earlier Christian tradition. It was likely the more primitive of dates for a single feast that celebrated both the Nativity of Christ along with the Epiphany (in the East "Theophany")—which typically in the East is associated with the adoration of the Magi (the "wisemen"), the baptism of Christ, and the wedding at Cana. In the West, however—specifically in North Africa—around the fourth century Christmas seems to have been a separate feast. Eventually, some time during the fourth century, the two became separate feasts in both East and West. Basically what happened was that in the fourth century as various regions had developed different dates for Easter (specifically the Passion of Christ) and as a more unified church under Constantine sought a common date for Easter among all regions, they also calculated the birth of Christ in relation to the dating for Easter. Hence Christmas, Dec. 25, came to be associated with the Nativity, and Epiphany, Jan. 6, with adoration of Magi, baptism of Christ (and this solely in the West), and the wedding at Cana. Thus, Simon referenced the twelve days of Christmas earlier, spanning from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6: the latter day is the traditional day of the Feast of Epiphany in the Western Church (again going back to the fourth century) and marks the end of the Christmas season. However, prior to the fourth century the feast of Christmas—the Nativity of Christ—was celebrated in some places, like Alexandria, on Jan. 6 (and still is in the Coptic churches in Egypt).
As for pagan origins—there are clear pagan festivities, and even such that can be related to both feasts in the Christian church, on both Dec. 25 and Jan. 6 in ancient Roman culture. However, more recent scholarship has found any *direct* links between those pagan festivals and the Christian church's to be tenuous. No doubt there was common cultural borrowing and social influence, but there is little evidence of a direct "hijacking" by early Christians other than the coincidence of the dates. It is more likely, scholars increasingly are concluding, that the dates of Dec. 25 and Jan. 6 are more likely related to the dating of Easter that was taking place in the fourth century.
Advent, again, has an ambiguous development, but evidence suggests that its earliest origins have to do with a (three-week) time of preparation for candidates to receive the sacrament of baptism, which would have taken place on January 6 in the West (baptisms are still common on that date in both East and West). After the fourth century, the fixed date of Dec. 25 for Christmas determined the beginning of Advent and that time of preparation stretched out to forty days and the period focused during the medieval period on penitence—in the Anglo-Saxon liturgy it was specifically a time of penitential preparation for judgment and the Last Day.
RE: Halloween. This, again, has its origins in the Christian church, though once again there was likely cultural borrowing/influence from cultural and "pagan" rituals and customs and even some attempts to suppress "pagan" influence by utilizing common dates (but this is far from a settled issue in scholarship). This feast is not nearly as old as Christmas, yet it is perhaps even more difficult to nail down in terms of origins (because "All Saints" was celebrated on so many different days in different regions before it was fixed on Nov. 1—and this fact certainly troubles the waters for the theory that Halloween directly "hijacked" this feast from pagan rituals and customs). "Halloween" simply means "All Hallow's Eve," which is the evening prior to All Hallows', or All Saints' Day (the Christian church followed the Jewish calendar in understanding the beginning of the day to be not at sunrise, but at sunset—thus the beginning of the day for the feast of All Hallows' began the previous evening). This feast likely developed after the eighth century in the Gallic regions (its earliest definitive evidence stems from the reign of Charlemagne, who was crowned on Christmas 800 CE).
Hope some of this is helpful. (My primary field of scholarship is Christian liturgy so this is kind of my wheelhouse.)
"In music I think it's very, very dangerous if you start to compare and say, 'This is good, this is not good, this is only one possibility' . . . there are so many possibilities, but what is important is to be open to that." - Pavel Steidl