You don’t have to look far to see someone complaining about how Christmas has become too commercialized; or how Santa Clause has taken over the meaning of the season. I agree with this sentiment, I believe many people focus too much on “stuff” and getting/giving of material gifts.
In an effort to bring the actual reason for the season back into the lives of our family my wife and I decided to start a tradition of celebrating the winter solstice. The actual reason for the season.
From the earliest writing to present, people have been celebrating the life-giving properties of the sun. With the natural rotation of the earth around the sun, the length of the night differs depending on the time of year. In the northern hemisphere, December 21st is the longest night of the year. With each night thereafter getting just a touch shorter until the summer solstice (the shortest night of the year) on June 21st. Then again, each night thereafter gets a little longer until once again the winter solstice.
There are written records of people having gatherings and feasts in celebration of this return of the sun. Life- death-rebirth myths are plentiful in history, most of which originate due to this natural cycle of the sun. The sun, the provider of light, warmth and giver of life dying and being reborn every year. Traditions and stories abound of people bringing evergreen bows, holly and mistletoe into their homes as a sign of life to come in the spring. The spring, when the sun returns and brings its life-giving properties. Many people participate in long held traditions of giving gifts at the end of the year as a gesture of gratitude for the blessing of the past and hope for the future. As well, many people participate in traditions of lighting lights during this time of year as a symbol of the coming light in the spring.
With the significance of this natural occurring event, one may think it would be more celebrated. Sadly, this event has been hijacked and I believe there are two major individuals to blame. Santa Clause and Jesus Christ.
Let me take a moment and break the stories of each of these two transgressors down.
Santa Clause is presumably a personification of Father Christmas; Father Christmas a figure who most likely originated from a combination of many different pagan figure(s) who represented the coming of spring. The early British people(s) celebrated by decorating with evergreen, holy and mistletoe. This Father Christmas character became even more significant when the Vikings invaded Britain and brought with them their winter traditions and superstitions. Odin (a Germanic god representing all types of characteristics like, wisdom, giving, health, love, battle and sorcery) would take on a human form and come and celebrate with the people between the 20th and 31st of December. This time of year, referred to by the Vikings as Yultid, lives on today as Yuletide.
With the colonialization of the Americans and the piecemeal beliefs which came over from Saint Nicholas to Father Christmas, Santa Clause was born; Santa Clause an imaginary figure whose origins come from pagan, Germanic and Viking gods.
So, what’s the harm of celebrating Santa Clause anyway? In my opinion there is very little harm in celebrating this jolly character. An admitted fictitious character created to make the cold, long, winter nights more comfortable.
I feel you can celebrate the arrival of Santa Clause down your chimney bringing gifts to good little girls and boys without infringing on the Winter Solstice celebrations, a hijacker of the true meaning of the season, but possibly still in the spirit of the season.
Now on to our next hijacker, Jesus Christ; a story of a god being born of man on the 25th of December to a virgin mother. First, it needs to be said, there is NO evidence in any Christian writings of Jesus being born on December 25th, not even in the Bible. Why, then does the entire Christian world celebrate the birth of Christ on this day?
Actually, if we consult the bible we get differing stories of who the father of Jesus was. Mathew says it was the holy ghost, John states God was made flesh, Mark makes no mention of it. Then there is Luke, who many biblical scholars claim was a Roman citizen to begin with. It makes sense why he would want to introduce the virgin birth and the humble beginnings of a god/man. This would align with many of the Roman god stories and help assimilate the two worlds.
These biblical discrepancies will need to be a topic for another day.
Back on point, the question. Why do Christians celebrate the birth of their savior on the winter solstice? Even if we grant Christians their virgin birth story told in Luke chapter 2, it was NOT on the 25th of December. So, why on the 25th of December?
Is there harm in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December? I would like to make the argument that yes, there is harm in doing so. First, those that believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ are not believing this as a mythical story. They believe this happened, God really did come down and have an intimate moment with Mary. Mary did have a baby as a virgin. But did it happen on the 25th of December?
The birth of Christ was NOT on the 25th of December. Therefore, if you want me to believe this actually did take place (Jesus was born from god and Mary as a virgin), then you may want to fess up to the fact that it did not take place on the 25th. Therein lies the problem. If you confess that it did not take place on the 25th of December, then you need to confess you do not know when it took place. Then you may need to be even more honest and confess you do not know if it actually took place at all. In the spirit of honesty, can we all just admit that Jesus Christ has hijacked the real reason for the season?
While Christians contemplate which day they will pick as the new date to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s celebrate the Winter Solstice. Take a moment and appreciate the wonder of the solar system and how the earth rotates around the sun. Bring the pines into the home to celebrate the hope for new life. Light a candle (or put up modern Christmas lights, less of a fire hazard) as a symbol of the light that is coming back. Give gifts, not because there may have been three wise men. Give gifts as people have for millennia at the end of the year as a sign of prosperity and hope for the new year.
I hope once you have read this you will understand why I prefer not to say Merry Christmas, I prefer to say Happy Winter Solstice or Happy Holidays. Not because I am being politically correct, but because I feel we should give respect to the real reason for the season, not the hijacker’s.
On that note, I wish you all a very Merry Winter Solstice and hope you will enjoy it now with a new light. Take a moment to do some further research on the origins of the holiday. I think it will help you enjoy them even more, and have gratitude that the sun will come back up and continue to give us warmth and life.
Happy Winter Solstice from me to you!