Just a few days ago, the topic of the Winter Solstice came up at work. What was interesting about this conversation, was that someone mentioned how odd it was that “they put the Winter Solctice near Christmas.” I replied that it most likely happened in the other order. I then had to explain that solstices are naturally occurring events and at some point the Church started observing Christmas in December so that the Christians had something to celebrate along with the locals/ pagans/ heathens, or what ever you want to call them, who were celebrating the Winter Solstice. (This then led to a whole other conversation about the Aztec nation and the European conquerors…)
Then I saw this posted on Facebook. The rest of my post may offend many of my friends, and maybe even some family members, but I’m going to say it anyway: I consider myself a Christian, and I agree with this meme. So yes, this Christian is sharing a meme from an atheists’ organization. If that bothers you, you can stop reading now, but I hope you won’t.
See, to me, part of the struggle of living a simple life includes living peacefully, and loving everyone. Everyone. This is tough for me, not because of religious differences, but because of personalities – face it, some of us just don’t get along. I struggle with loving those people on a daily basis.
Personally, I love this time of year because a spirit of goodwill is contagious and due to all the various holidays a festive atmosphere abounds, making it just a wee bit easier to love my fellow humans. But, I readily accept that most of my traditions are adopted from other cultures, religions, and regions of the world. I’ll admit that many of my traditions were adopted from older traditions and rituals, like Chanukah, Yule, and the Winter Solstice.
According to a few sources, the first Chanukah was celebrated in 138 BCE*. It’s basically a celebration of victory and the miracle of sacred oil lasting for 8 days, as needed by the priest at the time. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and I hope I didn’t dumb it down so much as to be offensive to any Jewish readers. The point is, it’s been observed by Jews well before Christ was even born. Which also means, if you are a Christian, you need to remember or acknowledge that Christ may have celebrated Chanukah too, since he was Jewish. I note that he “may have” because observing and celebrating can be two very different things. I observe the days some of my family members have died, I observe Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. Sometimes, these observances may become celebrations, often not.
Then there’s the Yule celebration. This is a tough one, mostly because it has been observed for so long that it has morphed, changed, and been accepted as part of so many other seasonal celebrations, including Christmas. It’s even been included in so many Christmas songs that the phrase or word “yuletide” has become so common that people assume Yuletide means Christmas. But as far as I can tell, it doesn’t, or at least it didn’t originally. As a matter of fact, the practice of burning a yule log, is so old, I couldn’t find a dated reference and just about every country can claim some sort of yule log celebration. It’s simply a pre-Christian tradition of starting a new fire or log from the embers of an old log – in order to bring about prosperity and good things in the coming year. Again there’s so much more to it than that, but at this time of the year, isn’t that a great thought? And did you catch the bit about it being PRE-Christian, that means before Christianity.
Winter Solstice like the Yule log is so ancient a tradition and woven into so much history that it can be hard to explain or pinpoint a starting time, original culture, or even meaning! I found all sorts of references to Druids, both current and ancient; days getting longer and rituals thanking the gods for returning life and light to the world; celebrations of forgiveness and sharing; and banishing the darkness.
I acknowledge the Winter Solstice and rejoice in it every year – because I think I get a mild case of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) at this time the year, and knowing the days are going to get longer really does a lot to lift my spirits. This year I got my first Solstice card. As a Christian, I was not offended. I know the sender celebrates the Winter Solstice and, weather permitting, has a Yule log ceremony at her home. To her the Solstice means something special, so the fact that she included me by thinking enough to give me a card means a lot to me. It means she sees me as someone worthy of her friendship by letting me be a small part of, what to her, is a religious celebration.
Christmas is a relatively new holiday, maybe not as new as Festivus, but newer. As far as I can tell, a number of sites list the first Christmas (Christ Mass) somewhere around 336 A.D.. That’s almost 400 years AFTER the first observance of Chaunaka, and even longer after the Yule log or first Druid Solstice observance.
I think that part of the reason I love the December holiday season so much is that because regardless of what you celebrate, light is somehow involved. This time of the year seems to cry out for a celebration centered around light. Personally I think it has to do with the long dark days. Who doesn’t’ want to create something hopeful when it’s cold, dreary, and dark?
I simply don’t say Happy Holidays because I celebrate Christmas and it’s a habit to say “Merry Christmas”, no other reason. And I also tell myself, every year, that I’m going to work on saying “Happy Holidays!” But for some reason, the habit never sticks, people wish me a “Merry Christmas” and I reply in kind. But just once this year, I’d like to consciously do it correctly, so what ever you celebrate at this time of the year, Happy Holidays, may yours be bright, beautiful, and meaningful.
*For those who have forgotten, I know I don’t always remember, B.C.E. means Before Common Era. C.E. means Common Era and is often used in place of A.D.. A.D. means Anno Domini which is Latin for “in the year of our Lord” and is said to represent the year of the birth of Jesus Christ as a reference point on the ongoing calendar. It can get confusing.
Photos from Wall Street Journal of Stonehenge, 2014 Solstice.
Christian Church History: