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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/24/10

How the Winter Solstice was stolen by Christmas

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Christmas in America is really about the Winter Solstice. Americans are quite out of touch with Nature, the reason for seasonal changes, and the importance of the Solstices. What is the common denominator that has all these religions vying for "their most important day" on or near Dec. 25th? It is the Winter Solstice. Humans have celebrated the Winter Solstice for millennia. It could be argued that the Winter Solstice is the single most influential and important event of the year. We're hardwired to appreciate the end of short days and that day's lengthening to more sun and longer days. Many holidays conform to this time and celebrate on or near Dec 25th. The Winter Solstice, Dec 21, and the Summer Solstice, June 21, are the most dramatic of the Natural Holidays. Many, many candles are lit on this shortest of nights, in many religions, in many countries, and in many customs outside of Christianity.

The date of Christmas, December 25, was borrowed from another religion. At the time Christmas was created in AD 336, Mithraism was very popular. The early Christian church had gotten tired of their futile efforts to stop people celebrating the solstice and the birthday of Mithras, the Persian sun god. Mithras' birthday was December 25. So Pope Julius I decided to make Jesus' official birthday coincide with Mithras' birthday. All honest Biblical scholars (Christian and non Christian) admit and agree that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25. Dec 25 became the consensus date, and a logical way to assimilate the pagan, and Earth based Winter Solstice gatherings into the Christian religion. The writings in the Bible contradict the creation of Christmas on Dec 25 because of weather. The shepherds and their flocks were not "in the fields;" they were in shelter; no one travelled in mid winter (it was too hard), and a manger at night on Dec 25 in Bethlehem was very cold. The Holy Family's whole journey, if at all, started at another time of the year.

Since 336 AD in Christian Rome, we have had Dec 25 designated as Jesus' birthday. Before that date, there were many myths very similar to the Biblical account of Jesus' life that circulated in the Middle East for hundreds of years before Jesus. In these myths, the hero was always born near the Winter Solstice. Roman 'Attis' was a son of the virgin Nana, born on Dec 25 and died on Mar 25 (Spring Equinox) after being crucified on a tree. Greek 'Dionysus', Persian (and Roman) 'Mithra' and Egyptian 'Osiris' have been worshipped since Neolithic times and were all born on Dec 25. Other pagan gods whose "birthday' was on Dec. 25 are Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Tammuz, Hercules, Perseus, Helios. Bacchus, Apollo, Jupiter and Sol Invictus.

According to most sensible researchers, the date of Jesus' birth is April 17, 6BCE. The Urantia Book says Aug 21, 7 BCE.

By the time the Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the 4th century, most of the other religions in the empire were celebrating the birth of their gods on December 25th. Some accounts claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans, but also the Persians, whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time.

Leading up to December 25th in ancient Rome, a festival known as Saturnalia was one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Saturnalia was a festival during which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of their god Saturn. This holiday began on the 17th of December and it would last for an entire week until the 23rd of December. Saturnalia was typically characterized by gift-giving, feasting, singing, and lots and lots of debauchery. The priests of Saturn would carry wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession through the pagan Roman temples. The ancient Babylonian "Christmas tree" became known as a symbol of fertility throughout the ancient world. The pole, balls, and tinsel (phallus, testes, semen) represented various aspects of male fertility, while wreaths were always fashioned in a circle to represent female fertility.

Later on, the Romans also started holding a festival on December 25th called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means "the birthday of the unconquered sun." Basically it was a way for the empire to consolidate all of the December 25th "sun god" birthdays throughout the empire into one holiday. In 325AD, Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, introduced Christmas as an immovable feast on 25 December. He also introduced Sunday as a holy day in a new 7-day week, and introduced movable feasts (Easter). In the year 336 A.D., Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th from then on. There appears to be little doubt that Pope Julius was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans to convert to Christianity. However, the new holiday did not really take off with Christians at first. The widespread celebration of December 25th by Christians did not really get going until 378. It was apparently then dropped in 381 and then resurrected in 400.

But the truth is that December 25th was celebrated as the birthday of scores of pagan gods long before it was ever associated with Jesus. Holiday displays should show all possibilities of religion and spirituality, including the honesty that Dec 25 was hijacked by Christmas. When the Christians decided to make December 25th a "Christian holiday" in the fourth century, they simply adopted a longstanding pagan holiday and kept most of the same pagan traditions.

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I'm a retired Union Stagehand, living in Babylon, disguised as Seattle. In my life, I've seen war, then studied art, politics and religion. I raised a family and worked in theatre, opera, rock n roll and film. Now I'll learn to write about that.
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How the Winter Solstice was stolen by Christmas