Many Christian holiday traditions are rife with pagan symbology, and the Christmas season is certainly no exception. In fact, this holy day that many hold so dear as the celebration of the Savior’s birth is so completely paganistic that it can be difficult for some to see how it could have ever mingled with other ancient traditions involving the winter solstice. Some claim that the day of Jesus’ birth was made to coincide with solstice rituals and observances, in order to give Christians an alternative to recognizing the Roman cult of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun), and celebrating the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun), which occurred on the 25th of December. There were other influencing factors, even including some seemingly deceitful proselytization tactics, as described in a recent article by Andrew McGowan in Bible History Daily:
“The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.”
Today, we have a widespread acceptance of Christmas as an overly commercialized secular celebration involving overspending, overeating, and obligatory gift exchanging. There are some who also embrace Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth right along with the cultural trappings, and then there’s the ones who believe the holiday sprang from Christian tradition and was co-opted by nefarious heathens to minimize the influence of Christianity to be needlessly multiculturally sensitive and politically correct. Some even take it so far as to claim that there is an actual “War on Christmas” going on in American society. Of course, any rational person can deduce that our attempts to be inclusive are not attacks on any group of people or religion. If anything, it’s the pagans who celebrate Yule that should be upset with Christians for expropriating their rituals in order to try and make converts.
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, customs, or faith traditions, the time of year that we typically refer to as the holiday season is really more about winter than anything. Even without having any knowledge of the history of Christmas and the rituals of the winter solstice, it’s quite easy to deduce that this time of year is an important turning point on the calendar. It marks a seasonal shift, where the days finally start growing longer and the promise of spring’s warmth is remembered and celebrated. Some even advocate for returning Christmas to a more multi-faceted and inclusive winter celebration, rather that fighting over who has greater rights over the establishment of this holiday.
Audrey Kingstrom, blogger for Humanists of Minnesota, wrote a piece called Out With Christmas, In With Yule several years ago, in which she had this to say about the subject at hand:
“We can focus the season on the winter solstice—that pivotal shortest day and longest night in our journey around the sun recognized by both ancients and contemporaries. We can frame it as ‘Midwinter’—that medieval description of late November to early January as midpoint in the darkest time of year when ordinary life was suspended. We can call it ‘Yule’ after that pre-Christian northern European celebration of harvest’s end and festive respite from the hard labor of an agricultural economy.
To retain ‘Christmas’ as the nomenclature for this midwinter holiday is to needlessly divide us as a society and cast non-Christians as outliers in our culture. In renaming the season ‘Yule’ to reflect its origins in the cycles of nature, we can celebrate our common humanity and acknowledge our shared joys and challenges of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For the season is not just about Christmas; in fact, it never was. Let the Midwinter festival begin!”
As we each proceed with our traditional holiday gatherings and celebrations, let us all pause for a moment to consider our purposes and reasons for our recognition of Christmas. If there is no religious or spiritual context for observation of this holiday, then what is the purpose of even giving it any credence? Are we simply giving into the cultural pressure to participate in the perpetuation of the myth of Santa Claus? Or, do we just play into the marketing schemes of corporations that are looking to increase profits during the capitalistic frenzy of the American holiday season? Perhaps we merely like to gather with friends and family to exchange gifts and merely appreciate Christmas for the extra time it usually provides us for spending time with those we love. No matter the “reason for the season,” it certainly doesn’t have to include any religious connotations.