Photo: kalhh on Pixabay
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, sort of.
There will be lights, and trees, and presents under it, but many of us will again be spending another holiday with only our immediate family. Or alone. Thank goodness for zoom!
The Solstice brings the promise of light and changes back into the world and the wonder of a future we long for. It is indeed a magical time from any perspective.
So whether you call it Christmas or the Holiday Season, the theme is universal. And its roots are ancient, predating the Christmas or Holiday Season we have today by thousands of years.
Paganism and Christmas
The winter solstice and Christmas are connected, but the pagan traditions of the season predate Christianity by many years.
Christians celebrated the first Christmas in 336 A.D. during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. However, pagans may have observed the winter solstice as early as the Neolithic period, the last part of the Stone Age around 10,200 B.C.
For instance, Stonehenge, in England, is directed toward the winter solstice sunset.
In Pagan times, the celebration was called “Yule” in honor of the Goddess Moon energy, the day she would give birth to the sun. It is also when the days begin to grow longer, and pagan custom was to burn Yule logs as a symbolic way of welcoming back the light.
Fire was the source of the light.
The early Christians sought to convert the pagans who resisted the ban on their ancient customs. Traditionally, the winter solstice is celebrated on December 21st and 23rd.
Thus, Christians co-opted Yule and the birth of Jesus Christ and came up with a compromise: December 25th.
Ancient Christmas Traditions
The Druids, known for their love of trees, worshiped and brought them inside to decorate. Thus, the concept of the Christmas tree was born and continues to this day.
Pagans revered mistletoe, and Norse and Druids believed that it protected them against thunder and lightning. It was hung from trees and distributed for protection.
It was a symbol of peace and joy, and enemies meeting under it would lay down their weapons. No doubt this is how world peace became one of the themes of Christmas.
Ivy, a symbol of the Roman God Bacchus, represented wine, song, and celebration to the point of madness. It is a symbol of eternal life.
The Christmas wreath, likewise, is round and a symbol of continuity.
The Christian Christmas
For Christians, the light is represented by Jesus Christ as the light of the world. Ivy symbolizes the eternal life promised by the Christ child, and the season itself offers hope for peace and joy in the world.
They celebrate Christmas with trees and lights and often wine and song.
For the pagans, this light was represented by the birth of the sun. And Christians celebrate the birth of the son, who is also a symbol of light.
Mistletoe represented peace and joy.
Light, life, and hope are present in both. It is easy to see the common thread in pagan and Christian traditions. And it’s evident that Christian traditions of Christmas were borrowed from the pagans of old.
Pagan simply means “of the earth.” It’s how people knew when to plant food and when to harvest it. They lived their lives through the rhythms of the earth and seasons of change.
No matter how you celebrate the season, do it with joy. In the end, no matter what you believe, this Christmas “Holiday” Season is a time of celebration.
Let’s hope that this year, it is a time of change that moves us toward togetherness and the gift of, once again, being together.