In the Middle Ages, Christmas was a raucous, drunken celebration which resembled a carnival. Poor people would go on a Christmas"trick or treat" around the richer neighborhoods, causing them misery if they didn't get what they wanted. Many other pagan traditions have been incorporated into Christmas. Yule was celebrated by the Norse in Scandinavia around the time of the winter solstice by bringing in large logs for the fire, in recognition of the eventual return of the sun. It could take as much as twelve days for the log to burn down. Meanwhile, the Norse would feast. The holiday usually lasted through January. The Germans did not so much celebrate as honor the winter solstice. They believed that their god, Oden, flew through the sky at night passing judgment on his people. Generally, they would stay indoors during this season. When the Germanic people were converted to Christianity, their winter festival was naturally adopted as a celebration of the birth of Christ. To the pagans, evergreens served as a symbol of winter's inability to stop the cycle of renewal. They were important fertility symbols which were highly revered by many cultures, including the Germans and the Celts. They helped to soothe the pagans' fears that the sun would never return, and that winter would reign eternal. The Druids tied fruit to the branches of live trees, and baked cakes in the shape of fish, birds and other animals, to offer to their god, Woden. We also inherited the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe from the Druids. All of these practices, many of which are still incorporated in the modern celebration of Christmas had their origins in Pagan traditions that pre-date the purported birth of Christ by centuries. Anyone willing to take the time to study the history of Christmas can see how Christianity took over the celebration as it marched westward and, if they're willing to be honest, must admit that Christendom has no original claims to anything having to do with Christmas, other than the name of course.
Many people mistakenly state that "Jesus is the reason for the season." They do so, because they believe people have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. It simply isn't true. Christmas can be celebrated as completely secular because ultimately it is not a Christian holiday. Christmas goes beyond religious and cultural differences, and addresses something universal in all of us. For this reason it has become popular in non-Christian countries such as Japan. The truth is that Christian and pagan traditions have a great deal in common. The real need behind all of these traditions was to find a source of joy, happiness, hope, goodwill and generosity. There was a need to find ways to cope with our fears about the darkness and cold of wintertime, and to celebrate the return of the sun and the longer days of spring. In fact, Christianity and pre-Christian pagan religion have a great deal in common. Various pagan religions shared the Christian practice of worshiping a god-man who could offer salvation in the form of heaven or condemnation in the form of hell. The concept that a son of God could be born of a mortal woman is seen in many different religions spanning the globe. These concepts are universal, except to those who are extremely divisive and have a tendency to pick nits, such as fundamentalist evangelical Christians.
The ACTUAL war on Christmas was waged over the last 2,000 years by Christians, and, as you can see they won. Now every year we have to listen to people complain endlessly about this imaginary "war on Christmas", and how we've forgotten the reason for the season. While it's true we have as a society forgotten the actual origins of Christmas, it has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. The ire expressed by the religious regarding things like nativity scenes and other religious displays on public/government property is also misplaced. I find it ironic that they (Christians) claim that they're victims of religious oppression yet have no problem whatsoever forcing their religion down our throats. The separation of church and state guarantees not only the right to practice whatever faith one chooses, it also guarantees the freedom FROM religion as well. Which is the right to choose not to practice any religion whatsoever, and to be free from being forced to observe or participate in the practice/observation of those faiths. Not being able to force everyone to observe and celebrate the way you think Christmas, or Easter or whatever should be celebrated does not amount to religious intolerance. And lastly, now that you know that Christmas has NOTHING to do with Christ whatsoever, please stop bitching about it, and apologize to any Pagans you happen to run across for stealing and destroying their holiday, and for murdering hundreds of thousands of them throughout the last 2,000 years when they wouldn't pretend that their holiday involved a magical Jewish baby that fathered himself with a virgin in a town that didn't even exist at that time (Nazareth).
And for those of you that will undoubtedly bury your head even deeper in the sand after reading this, here are my sources, which you can confirm for yourself if you like. We have limitless information at our hands in this day and age, put it to good use, please!
Dennis Bratcher, "The Christmas Season." The Voice. URL: (http://www.crivoice.org/cyxmas.html)
"Saturnalia." History.com. URL: (http://www.history.com/minisite.do?content_type=Minisite_Generic&content_type_id=1253&display_order=1&sub_display_order=2&mini_id=1290)
"Christmas - An Ancient Holiday." History.com. URL: (http://www.history.com/minisites/christmas/viewPage?pageId=1252)
"Christmas." Encyclopedia Brittannica. URL: (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9082431/Christmas)
Ruth Reichmann, "Christmas." URL: (http://www.serve.com/shea/germusa/xmasintr.htm)
Alan Williams, "The History of Christmas," URL: (http://www.christmas-time.com/cp-hist.html)
"ALL ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS TREE." URL: (http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmas_tree.htm)
"An Outlaw Christmas." URL: (http://www.history.com/minisite.do?content_type=Minisite_Generic&content_type_id=1254&display_order=1&sub_display_order=3&mini_id=1290)
Mary Dawson, "Stories Behind the Christmas Carols." URL: (http://www.musesmuse.com/00001238.html)
Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, "Christmas Carol Surprises." URL: (http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/christmascarol.htm)
Diane Relf, "Christmas Tree Traditions." URL: (http://www.ext.vt.edu/departments/envirohort/factsheets2/landsnurs/dec90pr3.html)
Greg Kane, "Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth." URL: (http://www.pocm.info/getting_started_pocm.html)
Ted Olson, "The Real St. Nicholas." URL: (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/christmas/nick.html)
Royce Carlson, "The Pagan Origins of Christmas." URL: (http://www.zenzibar.com/articles/christmas.asp)
"Who is St. Nicholas?" URL: (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38)
Jennifer Claerr, "The History of Christmas and Its Pagan Origins" URL: (http://voices.yahoo.com/the-history-christmas-its-pagan-origins-646539.html?cat=74)
And last but not least! Wikipedia, "Christmas" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas)