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