False origins used by Christians
This is a collection of false origins used by Christians that appropriate existing culture and traditions. I'm sure some of these were created inadvertently, but, no doubt, others were purposely made to make the world seem more Christian. These false origins are often repeated so frequently and with such conviction that many Christians never even think to doubt them.
Ask a Christian where the word "babble" comes from, and they'll probably tell you the story of the Tower of Babel where Elohim confuses men by causing them all to speak different languages making it sound as though each is "babbling" to the other.
The real etymology of the English word "babble" comes from Middle English babelen which was based on the Old English *bæblian which both meant "to talk foolishly." As etymologists trace the word further back in time, the definitions become less certain. The Old English came from the Proto-Germanic *babalōną, which meant "to chatter," that came from the from Proto-Indo-European *bʰa-bʰa-. That was perhaps either a reduplication of Proto-Indo-European *bʰā- which meant to say, a variant of Proto-Indo-European *baba- which meant to talk vaguely, mumble, or a merger of the two. Further back, and etymologists guess that it comes from an mimicry of infantile sounds.
The word "Babel", on the other hand, has a completely different etymology. It is the Latin form of the Hebrew bāḇel, which comes from the Akkadian bāb ili, which means "gate of God." The words are entirely different, and it's merely a coincidence that the Hebrew word "Babel" and the English word "babble" have similar pronunciations. Most American Christians I've met actually mispronounce "Babel" as "BAHB el," when it's actually pronounced "BAY bel."
Some Christians claim that candy canes were created as a Christian teaching tool. They believe the shape represents a shepherd's crook, and the colors of white and red represent the Jesus' purity and blood. Flip it upside down, and lo, you have the letter J to symbolize Jesus!
Evidence of striped peppermint stick candy goes back to 1844, but the earliest printed example of even part of this specious Christian origin story goes back only to 1968. Here is an excerpt from The Milwaukee Journal 1968-12-13, p.49, "It's Christmas Season: My How Sweet It Is." No evidence has ever been found to corroborate this story, it appears to have been made up whole cloth by the author.
When I was Sunday school, I was told that the word "history" was a portmanteau of "his + story," where "his" naturally referred to the Christian god. Thus, "history" was the story of God's creation. My Sunday school teacher made no attempt to explain that this contrived etymology was merely a learning aid, and, as a child, I believed it to be the actual etymology of the word. The collage of headlines to the right was made from a quick Google search to demonstrate how popular it is for Christians to exploit this similarity.
"History" has a known etymology which comes from the Greek ἵστωρ [hístōr] which means "the one who knows," and has nothing to do with gods, Abrahamic or otherwise.
Pharisees are mentioned in various books of the New Testament, almost always in a negative light. I was always taught the the word meant, "I am very fair, you see," said with a sarcastic tone, indicating that the Pharisees thought very highly of themselves. This was enforced by Brian M. Howard's 1974 Evangelical children's song, I Just Want to be a Sheep, which contains the lyric, "Don't wanna be a Pharisee / 'Cause they're not fair you see."
As a child, it didn't click with me that the Pharisees existed over a thousand years before the formation of the English language, so, despite their similar sound, the words probably weren't related. I later discovered that the Pharisees were a traditional Jewish political and religious group of common people during the time of Second Temple Judaism (circa 400 BCE - 70 CE) and their name comes from the Hebrew פְּרִישַׁיָּא [Pərīšayyā] meaning "set apart."
Sadducees are mentioned in various books of the New Testament, but considerably less than the Pharisees. In church, the word Sadducee was explained to me as people who described themselves as "I am very sad you see," again, reinforced by the song I Just Want to be a Sheep which contains the lyrics, "Don't wanna be a Sadducee / 'Cause they're so sad you see." No attempt was ever given to explain their real history.
The Sadducees were an elite political group that existed from around 200 BCE - 70 CE which rivaled the Pharisees. The actual etymology of the word is unknown, but it suggested to come from the Hebrew צָדַק [ṣāḏaq] which means "to be just."
The examples to the right are variations of the belief that the numerical gifts in the Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas are coded aspects of Christian doctrine. This belief may have started with Hugh D. McKellar who, in a 1979 article, claimed the song was used to help Catholic children learn their catechism in England during a time when Catholicism was banned. He appears to have made this up whole cloth, as he provided no evidence that this ever occurred, and none has been found by anyone else. The specific injection of Christianity we see today appears to be the work of Friar Hal Stockert who listed them in an article in 1982.
The actual origins of the carol are far less straightforward. The song began as a poem, first published in England around 1780, however, it may have an older French origin. Music wasn't added until 1909. Like most folk poems, the author is unknown, so nobody knows if the lyrics have any special significance, and, if they do, what that significance may be. Several historians have suggested that the poem began as a children's counting game.
A quick look online will show you all sorts of Christian origin stories for wreaths, although, none of them are in agreement. The most common is that they represent the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head according to the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John, but additional links are made to holly berries symbolizing blood, the circular shape symbolizing unending love, the evergreen symbolizing eternal life, etc.
The reality is, wreaths predate Christianity by centuries. They were worn on the head by the ancient Greeks and Romans to show rank and privilege, and used as an emblem during the harvest festivals of various gods and goddesses.
Christmas wreaths, like the Advent wreath, are noticeably different, but they are merely modified designs based on earlier different religions.
These are topics that I know have a false Christian origins, which I will write about in more detail in the future.
- Christmas trees
- Jesus fish
- United States of America