It is the Winter Solstice today, as reckoned by many. I would probably do well to avoid a half-assed explanation of an ancient observance. But I have gotten into a number of conversations lately about Christmas as it relates to the appropriation of various Pagan holidays. So, while I admit to doing a crash course in the history of Pagan holidays, I will still attempt to paraphrase a few contemporary heathens…
Christmas as a Christian holiday did not begin as a holy and sanctioned observance. For some three hundred years after the birth of Christ, there was no officially recognized celebration of the birth of Jesus nor was there any proclamation or dedication of such in the scriptures. The epiphany was generally celebrated on January 6th. While Historians place the actual date of Jesus’ birth at various times in the calendar year, most agree that he was likely born in 4 or 5 B.C..
However, December 25th is very close to the Winter Solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year, a point after which it would appear that the Sun was regaining its strength, an indication of the power of the Sun deity returning. This being an established solar holiday, the date already had become the ‘birthdate’ of several Gods: Attis, Frey, Thor, Dionysus, Osiris and others. The largest sun worshipping cult which recognized December 25th did so by celebrating the birthdate of Mithra. Mithra, whose birth, to a virgin, was witnessed by shepherds and magicians, who had also raised the dead, cast out demons and returned to the heavens at the Spring equinox after supping with twelve of his disciples. All of which rings a bell somehow.
In the 4th century, the Roman church decreed December 25th as the official birthdate of Jesus. This date actually coincided with the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, marking the days of Saturn’s rule when there were no masters or slaves. To celebrate this became a reversal holiday, when masters would serve their slaves and certain slaves were chosen to run a given household. They also exchanged presents, gambled and generally had a good time. For this and other reasons, certain churches refused to recognize this date for centuries. The Pilgrims, some 1600 tears later, actually outlawed Christmas. It can be argued that the Christian church appropriated an existing holiday from the most powerful empire, seated in Rome, a date coincidentally sacred to Christianity's largest competitor, Mithraism, and likely did so as a political convenience rather than as a divine observance.
There are many other Christmas traditions that have pre-Christian provenance, notably, the Yule Log, mistletoe, and even the tree of Christmas comes from early Germanic peoples who would hang sacrifices on a tree in worship to a one-eyed deity, Woden, a death god. So, at least we have lightened things up a bit.
Anyway, if any of this is interesting to you, much of this information comes from Pagan Claus.
Have yourself an excellent holiday.
Peace and love.