Christmas is really an Astronomical Holiday

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The history of the celebration of Christmas is not surprisingly devoid of anything Christian.

A 2010 billboard issued by the American Atheist

The Winter Solstice is the real ‘reason for the season’, and it belongs to everyone.  When man first looked up into the sky and began to take note of the patterns of the celestial bodies, Winter Solstice has stood as a turning point in the seasons.  Marking the darkest day of the year on December 21st, the solstice signified a rebirth of the earth when people looked forward to longer days and a return of spring.

Many of the Christmas traditions that American Christians celebrate hearken back to distinct pagan origins.  The tradition of bringing a tree in the home and decorating it was practiced by pagans in northern European countries who celebrated the Winter Solstice or “Yuletide”.  The evergreen, holly and ivy were some of the few greenery that could be found in the cold winter.  They were used as part of the winter solstice celebrations.  The Yule Log gets its name from the Norse god, Jul.  In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire.  Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.

Winter Solstice was a month long event in December which celebrated the turning of days from getting shorter to getting longer because of the earth’s rotation on its axis around the sun.  In other words, the reason for the season is the axial tilt of the earth, to put it bluntly.

On December 25th the Romans celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun. Mithra was an infant god said to have been born of a rock.  However, when Christianity began to spread, the Christians simply adopted the pagan holidays and laid a Christian “reason” for the celebration over the existing traditions because they could not stop the festivities.  The actual date of Jesus’ birth is never mentioned biblically and  in the time when Jesus was born birthdays where not celebrated.

So atheist, humanist and non-theist, feel free to celebrate on December 25th.
Do it in thanks to the mythical gods and fairy tales if you wish: Santa and Jesus and Mithra alike, but say “Happy Solstice!” with a drink in your hand, for that is the way it all began.

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5 Comments

  • Aaron says:

    Hey I’m back! Far out it’s been ages but I’ve been busy! lol. Let me offer a flip side to the discussion:

    It is true that Jesus’ birthday is never mentioned. However, to not celebrate the birthday of the alleged Son of God would be folly, would it not? So then, the question arises: what date would be fit for the birth of The King of Kings, who would mark a new beginning for all men?

    It would seem wise, both logistically and symbolically, to place it within the period of a solstice. The winter solstice marks the beginning of a new age around the WHOLE world. People’s lives revolved around the solstice, because that marks the beginning of a new harvest (and for many it meant a new year).

    People all over the world naturally turned it into cultural and religious festivals, because it was incredibly significant. For example, New Zealand doesn’t have the winter solstice during the period of December, but the Maori people observed “Maruaroa o Takurua” during the winter season in June, which marked a new year for them.

    So if the celebration of a new harvest and new year already had a calendar date, what other possible period would be fit for the observance of the birth of Jesus the Christ, Saviour of the World, King of Kings, who would also bring a new harvest and a new year for the spirituality of the human race? The winter solstice, of course!

    Or maybe, just maybe, December 25 was chosen because it was nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation =P.

    Pop quiz! If the winter solstice was chosen to be significant to the birth of Jesus, what other period in the year would be fit for the slightly less significant birth of John the Baptist?

    Have a good holiday mate!

  • Aaron, great to see you back! I understand your points justifying why Jesus’ birth celebration began to be celebrated alongside solstice, Mithra’s birthday and Juvenalia. However, this does not detract from the original denotation of the season, which was the celebration of the increase in light from Dec 21st onward. This would have been highly important to people who lived by the seasons and did not have artificial light by which to operate.

    You mentioned New Zealand (regions in the southern hemisphere). For people living in the southern hemisphere, they would be noticing their summer solstice at the exact date northern hem people would be noticing their winter solstice (and visa versa). It is no surprise that the Maori marked this change in the axial tilt of the planet with some sort of celebration.

    Lumping the celebration of the biblical Christ with the celebrations of Mithra, a god who’s story parallelled Jesus’, would have made sense when trying to convert and convince others to follow a brand new religion. It would have also been easier for converts to keep the tradition of celebration at solstice, despite having converted from a pagan form of worship to the christian form of worship.

    I have done a bit of research and it appears that Jesus’ birth date was celebrated on different dates depending on location. It varies from May 22nd to January 6th, with only some mentioning December 25th by the mid 4th century. If we lean on Rome for a definitive answer, the first mention of the Nativity on the official papal calendar is in 354 CE. The celebration of the Annunciation seems to have originated shortly before or after the council of Ephesus in 431 CE. This is the first mention of it. It is a nice thought that Dec 25th was chosen because it is exactly nine months after March 25, but more likely March 25 was chosen because 100 years prior, Christians officially started celebrating Jesus’ birth on Dec 25th.
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm

    Regardless, we recognize that almost ALL the holiday traditions still celebrated today do not originate from Christianity. The tree, the yule log, the gift giving, the holly and ivy, the feasting… all harkens back to pagan traditions celebrating solstice. They are secular celebrations that everyone can partake of, no matter what religion because we all look up at the moon and the sun and go round on this planet together.

    Christians, (esp in America) like to claim this time of year for themselves. They find joy in excluding non Christians by saying that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ or ‘you can’t take the Christ out of Christmas’. It isn’t bad to remind them that they are the ones who hijacked this season from the pagans, without changing hardly any of the traditions.

  • Aaron says:

    Well, I can’t disagree with a lot of what you said, because most of what you said was exactly what I said =P. There are a few discrepancies, though:

    From reading what you’ve said, the point of contention seems to be the idea that the origins of such festivals are truly that of Christianity. I would say that if a Christian believes his/her faith lies on the idea that Christianity is the origins of holiday seasons (which it is not), then he/she is foolish. If an athiest or non-Christian believes that the disintegrity of Christianity lies in the integration of pagan and/or other religious festivals, then he/she is ignorant of the Christian faith. The Church did not (and still does not) conspire to obliterate paganism and other festivals by taking over their holiday seasons. It was merely meant to allow the Christian converts some comfort in observing important events of Christianity. St Cyprian himself acknowledged the paganistic roots of Christmas, in fact even blessing both when he said “How wonderfully acted Providence that on the day which the Sun is born, Christ should be born”.

    The idea I made of the Feast of the Annunciation was a little tongue-in-cheek =P. However, I’m not aware that Christmas was established before the Feast of the Annunciation. In early Christianity, the Annunciation (where Mary partook in the Redemption) was far more important than the human birth of Jesus. Even more so than that was the Resurrection of Christ, which is observed in early April. I would not put it out of the way of the early Church leaders (who you might’ve realized started standardizing all the dates during the 3rd/4th century) to have stuck the Feast of the Annunciation during Lent. I’m not sure when Christmas became incredibly popular, but as you may have been aware being an ex-Catholic, the priest leads Christmas service almost like a foreshadow towards Easter.

    Before Christianity integrated the festivals, they weren’t secular. Paganism might be thrown around a lot these days, but it simply alludes to folk religions, generally before the rise of Christianity. Thus, such festivals were deeply religious. Even Rome, an empire of religious tolerance, was deeply religious as a state, as Caesar himself claimed to be descended from the gods. The secularism we know today did not start ’til the 18th century.

    And just a last note: be very careful of Zoroastrianism/Mithraism (I use to be very convinced of this comparison too). It was purported to have been revised after the rise of Christianity, as the first written texts of the Avesta came about during the 3rd/4th century. It seems to have been revised once again, and full of error, on texts you can find all over the internet. Case in point: Mithra. The Mithra of Zoroastrianism is *far different* than the Mithra of the Roman cult. The former was a wise sage, the latter was depicted as some sexy romantic warrior lol. I’ve never heard of the birth of Mithra being celebrated on the 25th of December. What I do know is that the Romans did celebrate the birth of the Sun around the same time, hence the quote by St. Cyprian. Maybe the Mithraic cultists decided Mithra was as important as the sun too.

  • Aaron says:

    Also, just a few random questions:

    What instrument(s) do you play, as I see you studied it at college. Music is my greatest passion. Honestly, nothing beats listening to the intricacies of Mozart, or getting up and dancing to a rhythmic beat of Michael Jackson lol.

    I also see you do weight training, which is unusual for a girl. I remember coming to your site somehow through your User Profile, and there was this picture of you and I was like “Yeah okay, I’m subscribing”. On the real, did you get your great body through weight training and good diet, or did you also blast away with cardio? Would love for a couple of girls down here to try some serious weights, though you know, being girls…. lol

  • Perhaps not living in America, you don’t get to experience the vehemence of Christians who claim December for themselves. They get outraged when schools try to stay neutral by not allowing Christian nativities on site or when Christmas trees get relabeled “holiday trees”. They run about saying “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and that anyone who wishes them “happy holidays” somehow offends them. It is exclusionary and noisy.

    Pointing out that most of their “traditions” are direct hand-me-downs from pagan solstice traditions simply serves to humble the otherwise noisy and selfish Christmas-ian.

    Myself and the atheists I know personally celebrate in the spirit of the season, citing the solstice as an actual physical change of season that can be observed on December 21st. The traditions of pagan mythical beings have melded into our modern society and have become secular. We celebrate them knowing that pagan gods have nice stories that are obsolete, just like Santa Clause and the Christian god are nice stories without evidence. It is a time of year to lift the spirits, to tell stories, to look forward to longer, warmer days and to share with family and friends. No one should be excluded.

    I studied pipe organ and vocal performance, but that was years ago and I’ve since delegated my degree to a hobby and am more interested in the sciences these days.

    Weight training and proper nutrition is what got me where I wanted to be, 100%. I only do cardio about 2-3 times a week for 10-15 mins. I treat my heart like a muscle that I would weight train, so I do interval sprints (sort of like weight lifting for the heart). It does the job of keeping my heart in condition without telling my body to function like a “runner”. Long distance cardio actually sends signals to the body to reserve energy (lowering metabolism), which is counterproductive to weight loss and a high metabolism.

    Many women are turned off by weight training because they think they are going to have huge muscles or look too muscly. They don’t realize that this is nearly impossible unless they took hormone injections. Women don’t have enough testosterone to get very bulky. Most professional female body builders are on some type of hormone. Natural body building, even when done intensely, simply results in a toned, cut body for women. I always tell women who voice this over muscle production excuse that if they weight train and ever run into a problem of too much muscle, to please call me because I’ll want to buy their secret. 🙂

    Proper nutrition is also key, especially for women. For weight loss and maintenance, what you eat influences 80% of women’s results. For men it is less, about 65%. The rest is due to activity level and type of activity. There are two ways to influence weight loss: energy in and energy out. For women, energy in (food) is a huge determining factor. Eating healthy calories at the correct amount each day does more than hours upon hours in the gym. Energy out is best accomplished by an activity that requires your body burn lots of energy (fat) while exercising and while at rest. Muscle tissue burns 3 times as much energy as fat tissue at rest, so building muscle increases metabolism and works to burn fat even when you are at rest.

    After I have the baby I am going to get right into kickboxing. I’ve been able to stay active, even up until the end now, but my intensity has understandably had to lower. With breastfeeding and exercise, I plan to be back to my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months of birth.

    Cheers!

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