Earth day- secular call-to-action or Pagan holiday?

Quick points on Earth Day

  • Started on the 22nd of April, 1970
  • Date was chosen around American college schedules, NOT Pagan holidays
  • Was founded by two United States federal politicians: Gaylord Nelson and Pete Mc Closkey
  • Was founded in reaction to the amount of pollution and industrial waste causing health and safety concerns in the US
  • The Name Earth Day was created by an advertising executive as it rhymed with ‘birthday’
Image source

Happy Earth Day 2017 (or for those not yet into the 22nd of April Earth Day-eve). For myself, and I would imagine many of those within the Pagan-based faiths, the concept of Earth Day is welcomed and cherished. We believe that there is a direct connection between ourselves and nature at-large. Our faith ties us with nature, and harming the environment is like harming ourselves. But, just because Pagans relate to, and welcome, Earth Day does it mean that this global call-to-arms was a Pagan-inspired creation? On my look around the web I found a few links to some who would say yes, Earth Day is a means to force Paganism onto well-abiding Christians. Honestly, before researching this blog I had no idea of the foundations of Earth Day; so for the benefit of myself and the greater community I will give an account of Earth Day’s beginnings, the background behind the event, and current beliefs around the day.

History of Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day was founded on the 22nd of April, 1970 by a United States senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson. A self-proclaimed environmental activist Gaylord felt that America was destroying its environment through industrialization and current societal practices. Two events in particular led to his decision to move forward: an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California and a river which caught on fire due to oil in Cleveland.

Gaylord teamed up with Denis Hayes, the organization’s founder, and Pete McCloskey who was a congressman from California. The original idea for Earth Day was to be a one-time call-to-arms situated across college campuses in the US to highlight the need for environmental protection and working towards sustainability. The actual day, April 22nd, was chosen by Gaylord as it fell between the typical final exam week in American universities and the spring break festivities. The actual name ‘Earth Day’ was created by Julian Koenig, an advertising executive who stated that the name sounded like ‘birthday’ and the name stuck.

Since it’s inception Earth Day has become a global effort. Celebrated across the world it’s efforts have brought about many changes in how America and the world approach the environment and relevant issues of renewable energy, recycling, sustainable growth and waste/garbage disposal. According to the Earth Day Network site:

Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners in nearly 195 countries to build environmental democracy. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. We work through a combination of education, public policy, and consumer campaigns.”

Religious ties to the foundation of Earth Day?

So through all of my research not once has the concept of religion, any religion, entered into either the foundations of Earth Day, nor it’s current form. Yes, there are some Pagan organizations who relate to Earth Day in relation to their Pagan beliefs or simply use the day as a way of bringing to their conscious a connection with nature. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Pagansism in America Chas Clifton made reference to the fact that modern Wicca transformed from a magical-based religion to more nature-based in reaction to

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Earth Day. But these are anecdotal connections, just as the Easter bunny is now associated with the holiday it shares a name with. The concept of the Easter bunny was created to serve a purpose from the holiday, not define it.

The idea of Earth Day being considered a Pagan holiday was challenged in New York on March 29th 2001 when a group of parents described as of Christian faith brought a suit against the Fox Lane High School stating that their Earth Day activities were promoting Pagan and earth-based religions. Justice Kearse compared Earth Day festivites to that of displaying and paying respect to the American flag:

“An objective observer would not view these detailed prescriptions for honoring the American flag … as an indication that Congress … has established flag worship as a religion,” Judge Kearse wrote. “We conclude that an objective observer similarly would not view the School District’s Earth Day ceremonies as endorsing Gaia or Earth worship as a religion.”

The court found also found that the use of the term ‘mother nature’ was not a reference to a goddess or other diety, but a phrase similar to ‘father time’ used to describe a concept. Here we find objective heads prevailing to prevent a rather narrow-minded group of individuals from ruining what is a good public service in the form of Earth Day activities.

My take on Earth Day

I could also present here the critics. To be fair most have Christian backgrounds (at least according to the publicly stated information). But I do not feel such ignorant musings need a forum. As you can see even the Pagan faiths have looked to tie-in with Earth Day, however it was NOT founded on Pagan beliefs nor by any person who has ties to the Pagan community. Earth Day was a reaction by a well-meaning group of politicians and activists to raise awareness of industrial practices which could ruin our only true home- the planet.

Because of their efforts we have seen an amazing transformation of our planet since the 1970s. I was born in 1972 (shhh, makes me old), and can remember the days of smog alerts and oil spills. We live on a better planet because of the efforts of Gaylord Nelson, Denis Hayes, Pete McClosky and all of the other men and women who have taken their time and efforts to focus the world’s attention to the environment. Let us not ruin their efforts by putting religion squarely in an area where it is not relevant.

If religious faiths choose to use Earth Day as a reminder of their connection with Mother Earth great. We also have several other holidays that are similar. Likewise even Christians can, should they choose, use the day to strengthen their belief in god. But let us keep the focus of Earth Day on it’s original purpose.

Until next time,


Articles for reference

Earth Day Network

Wikipedia- Earth Day

Envirolink site with commentary from Gaylord Nelson regarding the foundations of Earth Day

Livescience: Earth Day Facts and History Gaylord Nelson: Founder of Earth Day

Uppity Wisconsin: The First Earth Day and Gaylord Nelson’s Environmental Legacy

Wikipedia- Gaylord Nelson

Huffington Post: Eight Ways Pagans Celebrate Earth Day

The Wild Hunt- Happy (Pagan) Earth Day to you!

Beliefnet- Court: Earth Day Not Pagan Holiday, Public Schools May Celebrate


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