Once again it’s that time of the year – Chrismahanukwanzakah, or more simply, the Winter Solstice – a time when people of different faiths are brought together by something that we all have in common: whining. “Oh, the humanity!” How unfair it is, and how oppressed we are by people of other faiths not respecting our particular interpretation of the Holiday. Pagans complain that they are being subjected to “Christian” indoctrination by the holiday music and decorations found in malls and other public places, and also that Christians “stole” their Holiday. Many Christians, on the other hand, object to the mere phrase “Happy Holidays” as being anti-Christian (apparently not having noticed that “holiday” = “holy day”) and want to “put Christ back in Christmas.” Meanwhile some other Christians, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, refuse to celebrate Christmas at all on the basis that it is a pagan holiday, a view that was also held by many Protestants in the past, including the Pilgrims. They assert, correctly, that the symbolism of the evergreen tree, mistletoe, holly, the star on the tree, the candles, etc., as well as the date itself, are purely pagan in origin. While this is quite true, it is, in my opinion, no reason not to celebrate!
On the contrary, we should cherish our pagan spiritual roots, especially in light of the fact that “Christmas” as it is being promoted in modern society is purely secular and nothing but an unabashed orgy of commercialism, a feeding frenzy of capitalism. Where a nativity scene is still present in public, it is almost certainly not there to commemorate God Incarnate, His Mother, or even, for that matter, the Sun, but rather, the 3 Wise Men bringing – what? – GIFTS, of course!! While it has been argued that “3 wise men” per se might be an oxymoron, they are undeniably bearing gifts, which is after all the secular Reason for the Season. The (alleged) birth of Jesus at the Winter Solstice has become merely an advertising tool to induce people to spend huge amounts of money. Among non-Christians, including atheists and Jews, the religious theme is easily ignored and substituted by “good will towards mankind” which nearly everyone can accept and, of course, results in the same thing: buying lots of gifts. Thus, the modern god Money is served by all, regardless of religion.
But Jesus was not born in December anyway, since the story involves shepherds being out in the open field with their flocks at night. December in Palestine is quite chilly and the sheep and shepherds, to this day, would be indoors at that time. The flocks were turned out to pasture in March and brought back in the beginning of November.
We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born; some say midsummer or perhaps September, but in any event the early Christians did not celebrate His birthday. “Christmas” did not even exist until about the fourth century A.D., when the Roman emperor Constantine established the celebration of Jesus’ birthday at the Winter Solstice which was on December 25, during the Roman holiday known as “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” which celebrated the return of light and life after the darkest day of the year. “Coincidentally,” December 25 was also the birthday of the solar deity Horus, son of Isis, the Queen of Heaven, and Mithras, also born of a virgin and also called “the Sun of Righteousness,” a title shared by Jesus. None of this was by mistake. The Emperor Constantine, a convert to Christianity, felt that it was in the best interest of Roman society that everybody could celebrate together. He sought to merge Christianity with the pagan traditions. Since Jesus was obviously an incarnation of the Dying and Reborn God, Sun of Righteousness and son of Mary, the Queen of Heaven, it made perfect sense to celebrate Him along with the other solar deities at the Winter Solstice. While modern pagans may cry that this was a cruel hoax, an attempt to trick the pagans and “steal” their holiday, the pagans in ancient Rome didn’t mind at all. Romans were very cosmopolitan and they were accustomed to learning new names for their gods and/or meeting new gods.
Meanwhile in ancient Europe they were also celebrating the Winter Solstice by bringing indoors holly, ivy, evergreen trees and mistletoe – sacred to Balder, another Dying and Reborn Sun God – and lighting candles and burning the Yule log to encourage the return of the Sun. Later, Santa Claus joined the festivities as the Stag King amidst his reindeer. All of these pagan elements are central to Christmas celebrations today. The red berries of the holly also represent drops of Christ’s blood shed for the world.
While some Christians may find these pagan parallels disturbing, I rejoice in them. A former pagan, I find the modern rivalry between pagans and Christians unnecessary and absurd. According to the faith of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, which I share, paganism is “the elder sister of Christianity.” In their view, the pagan myths inspire us and plant the seeds in our consciousness to be able to understand and appreciate the Dying and Reborn God when He incarnates in human history in Bethlehem. Jesus is not the adversary of the pagan myths – He is their fulfillment. Like Lewis, I can relate to this personally, because as recounted elsewhere in another blog, I rejected Christianity at the age of 12 and it was the pagan myths that many years later as an adult enabled me to appreciate Jesus.
Indeed, from a theological standpoint pagans and Christians have more in common than one might initially realize. Although Christianity has been referred to along with Judaism and Islam as, “the religions of the book,” which share the Old Testament or the “Abrahamic tradition,” the theology of Christianity stands in stark contrast to the other two. According to Judaism and Islam, the Incarnation of God is blasphemy, and the Trinity is polytheism! They assert that God is One and God does not beget children nor come to earth in human form nor, of course, ever die.
It is only in the pagan traditions that we find a God who is born of a woman in order to be here on earth among us – Immanuel, “God With Us,” to teach us, to love us, to play with us, even to die for us, and by rising again to defeat death. He has appeared in the ancient myths as Krishna, Mithras, Apollo, Hercules – born of a woman, half human, half divine. Others, such as Balder and the modern literary character Raiden (of “Mortal Kombat”) have divine parents but are willing to sacrifice their immortality, or at least temporarily set aside their infinite powers, on our behalf. Out of undying love for us, the Divine personally intervenes so that the Sun will return, warmth and light will vanquish the cold darkness, love will conquer hate, nature will bloom again and life will triumph over death. And that is what Christmas is about. It is appropriate that pagans and Christians put aside our pointless bickering and celebrate the deeper meaning of the Holiday together.