In Hitler’s Germany, the socialist, intellectual elite sought to take out the Christian aspects of the holiday and instead emphasize its Pagan roots and relationship to the Winter Solstice. Why does that sound so… familiar?
One of the most striking features of private celebration in the Nazi period was the redefinition of Christmas as a neo-pagan, Nordic celebration. Rather on focus on the holiday’s religious origins, the Nazi version celebrated the supposed heritage of the Aryan race, the label Nazis gave to “racially acceptable” members of the German racial state.
According to Nazi intellectuals, cherished holiday traditions drew on winter solstice rituals practiced by “Germanic” tribes before the arrival of Christianity. Lighting candles on the Christmas tree, for example, recalled pagan desires for the “return of light” after the shortest day of the year.
Scholars have called attention to the manipulative function of these and other invented traditions. But that’s no reason to assume they were unpopular. Since the 1860s, German historians, theologians and popular writers had argued that German holiday observances were holdovers from pre-Christian pagan rituals and popular folk superstitions.
The Nazis, y’see, thought religious superstition and belief in an invisible magical sky god were the atavistic traits of people of lower intelligence. They believed the Secular State should replace religion as the central focus of everyone’s life.